Teaching youth to be a responsible citizen

Explore the citizenship skills for youth.

Citizenship is a complex concept often associated with government, politics and patriotism. Citizenship is much more than a civics class in high school, but involves a commitment to one’s community, country and world. 4-H members start their club meetings by pledging their head, heart, hands and health to their club, community, country and world. According to Michigan State University Extension, citizenship is a foundational part of the 4-H Youth Development program.

For adults, citizenship involves paying taxes, voting and participating in political processes. Because these responsibilities are reserved for adults or those with an income, they can be more difficult concepts to convey to youth. According to the Michigan 4-H curriculum, Government Is Us, citizenship at its most basic level, is taking responsibility in a community. A community can be defined as a town, school, neighborhood or apartment complex. A community is simply where people gather. Responsible citizenship for youth, then, can be as basic as picking up trash in their neighborhood, running for student council, or attending and sharing their opinions at a community meeting. Although youth may not yet possess the right to vote, they certainly have a right to voice their opinion.  

4-H Cloverbuds, or youth ages 5-8, can begin learning citizenship principles at a very young age. They begin understanding their connection to their clubs and country by reciting the American and 4-H pledge at the start of their meetings. Following group established rules also prepares youth for citizenship by understanding and adhering to laws.

As youth grow and develop, more opportunities exist to broaden a young person’s understanding of citizenship. 4-H clubs themselves introduce youth to decision-making processes in communities by engaging members in business meetings. These business meetings also help youth understand basic parliamentary procedure principles. Many county 4-H programs can teach youth important citizenship skills by incorporating youth voice into decision-making advisory boards and committees. Youth that are given meaningful roles in these groups can understand the impact that their voice can have and begin to understand the ways in which they can make a difference in a greater community effort.

As youth reach high school, they begin to understand more deeply the government and political processes through classroom instruction. 4-H programs place an emphasis on experiential learning and utilize a statewide event, such as 4-H Capitol Experience, to engage youth in hands-on activities in the state government process. Youth work as teams to draft bills around issues that are important to them. Through a legislative simulation, they move each bill through committee, floor debate and voting over the course of three evenings. Youth assume roles as the bill sponsor, speaker of the house, member of the committee and others replicating the process in the Michigan House and Senate. During the day, youth meet with Michigan legislators and observe the Michigan House, Senate and committees in session so they can understand how their simulation reflects reality. The 2014 Capitol Experience event will be held in Lansing March 16-19, 2014 and registration is until February 7, 2014. To register, visit http://events.anr.msu.edu/4hcapex/.

4-H programs are uniquely positioned to provide experiential education around important concepts for youth. Even abstract life skills like responsible citizenship can be addressed through 4-H programs. It’s important to help youth understand the meaning behind the pledge to the clubs, communities, countries and world.

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