Who Are Youth?

According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, “youth is best understood as a period of  transition  from the dependence of childhood to the independence of adulthood.”1 As a category, youth is more fluid than other demographic groups with fixed ages. Yet age is the easiest way to define this group, particularly in relation to education and employment; it most frequently refers to people who are between leaving compulsory education and finding their first jobs. “Transition-age youth” is another commonly used term.

In Texas, we often define youth as ages 13 to 25. We subcategorize ages 13-18 as youth and 19-25 as young adults.

Changing How We Think

Beyond age, we may often have ideas and perceptions of how we understand youth. While we are often aware of the explicit beliefs and ideas that we hold, many assumptions or beliefs are implicit and difficult to recognize. By themselves, biases aren’t necessarily a negative thing, but it is important to recognize and address them. Our assumptions and beliefs can serve as barriers to connection and relationship building.

When you think of the term youth, what are some of the words or images that come to mind? What sources have sculpted your perspective on youth? Maybe a particular person or media source has influenced your views.

Assumptions about youth can also come in the form of ageism (prejudice or discrimination against an individual or group on the basis of their age). For example, there are times when we may act on behalf of youth without involving them in the decision making process. Despite potential good intentions, this type of approach sends a message that youth are inferior to adults. This creates a notion that youth are problems to be fixed rather than a key to identifying solutions.

The weight of these notions affects investment in creating positive change for both adults and young people. While adult education and expertise is valuable, there is valuable information to be gained from the voices of youth with lived experience. This additional information gained by working with youth instead of working for or on behalf of youth provides a way for us to use best practices and shift from seeing youth as subjects to understanding youth as equal partners.

  1. United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization. (2017). What do we mean by youth? Retrieved August 30, 2017.
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