Taking on Roles and Obligations

Youth choose or accept roles and their obligations; in some cases they initiate the roles.

An essential element of responsibility is that youth take on and invest fully in fulfilling the tasks and obligations of their role. A sense of ownership is enhanced when youth have the experience of choosing or defining their roles in programs. In some cases, staff can create formal roles, and there is a structured choice process. At Youth on Board (YOB), for example, they have a mix of both. There are official positions, such as president, vice-president, secretary, and a teen newspaper writer. Members can run for these positions in an election process. All young people who are part of the Boston Student Advisory Council (BSAC) at YOB work on teams on social justice projects throughout the district and at individual high schools. For this kind of work, the process is more fluid. Staff lay out the roles and structures to provide guidance in helping youth think through their work, but they leave it to the youth to self-select roles and tasks as they come up. Teena-Marie Johnson, Education Organizer at YOB, described this process:

Quote markStaff say to the group ‘Hey guys, there are lots of things that need to happen to move this campaign forward. Who wants to take on what role?’ Then the young people say, 'All right, I’ll do the public comment,’ or 'I’ll go to the meeting with the Mayor.’ Everyone feels part of the process. Everyone does things they are interested in as much as possible.

In other cases, the youth are taking on or choosing roles that may not have been specifically designed by the staff. In many programs youth spontaneously take responsibility for informal roles that are important to program goals (e.g., supporting each other, peacemaker, taking leadership for a task, taking roles within a team).

Further Reading

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How do you help youth choose a role that is right for them?