Give the kids a seat at the table! / by Annette Tait

There are a multitude of reasons WHY a community should have teenagers participating on the boards and councils, but I will limit this to just three.

1) According to a University of Nebraska national survey of rural youths, 50 percent -- that’s right folks, 50 percent -- want to return to their communities in the future.

That’s a fabulous number! Now what are YOU going to do with that information?

What is your community to have to offer these returning ‘youngsters’ down the road?

 Kate and friends at RuralX, Aberdeen, S.D.

Kate and friends at RuralX, Aberdeen, S.D.

Jobs? Things to do? Places to hang out? Wi-Fi hot spots? Entertainment for new families? Buildings to start businesses in?

I would bet if you asked these youngsters “What would you want to have?”, you would be surprised by their answers. If you let them, they will help you carve a new future for your community.

I met two extraordinary young men at the RuralX conference in Aberdeen, S.D., a couple weeks ago. They were the youngest attendees at 16 and 17 years old. 

Both want to “come home” to Miller, S.D. when they are done with school. Both want to open businesses.  Both want to be able to express their ideas now to council and both desire to be a part of it later.

They want to listen us, and for us to listen to them. Luckily, they live in a rural community that embraces young and old alike!

2) A vested interest in the community makes a difference.

 Community gardens allow everyone -- people of all ages -- to be a part of their communities in a meaningful way.

Community gardens allow everyone -- people of all ages -- to be a part of their communities in a meaningful way.

Most of the time it seems that my father’s “community garden” generation is the last to truly be a vested part of a community at a young age. 

Really -- think about that. For hundreds of years, people were expected to shoulder adult responsibilities and participate in community events at a young age.

When -- and why -- did we stop expecting our children to be an integral part?

When youth feel valued and a part of the community, they are more likely to participate and volunteer. They will readily step up and lead the charge for whatever task is at hand.

(I could name a number of communities where the youth are put on “ignore.” It doesn’t bode well for those particular towns’ futures.)

Why not coordinate with the school, so youth get credit for attending meetings and so on?

I believe this is doubly important in rural communities. Without a large population to draw from, we need to build from within.  Let youth participate, share ideas, and be a vital part.

Everybody wins.

3) Trust. Pretty simple, right?

Let me give you an example:  You trust the local teenagers to be lifeguards at the pool, responsible for your children’s safety.  You have faith in their judgment, that they will save a drowning child.

So why not trust their opinions or ideas?

Sure! Some of their ideas may be far-fetched to us. But I am sure some of our ideas were just as far-fetched to our “elders.” Without dreams, and forward thinking, and enthusiasm, rural communities will wither away.


So put a little trust in these kids and give them a seat at the big table.

Together we can make our communities better for all.