Exploiting the Teen Voice

Brad M. Griffin | Oct 27, 2009

Last week there was a Web 2.0 Summit techie conference in San Francisco. Like many conferences geared toward marketing and tech audiences, this one had an obligatory teen panel of five kids talk about their opinions on various interactive web subjects. You can find a summary of the panels discussion here. It was interesting, but not really surprising given other recent indicators of what teens want when it comes to online interactivity (they love Facebook and think Twitters weird).

Its interesting the ways we involve kids in research of various kinds in our culture. At FYI we employ a number of different research methodologies depending on what we are hoping to learn and what we hope to be able to say about it. So we certainly understand the value of a 5-person focus group. But too often it seems like adolescents are put on a stagein this case literallyand we ooh and ah over what they have to say, taking it as authority. Then afterward we point fingers and say Look how [fill in the blank with whatever negative descriptor we feel most appropriate] they are, generalizing the opinions of five students with all adolescents. So not only do we use the voice of the few to represent the whole (something most all of us are guilty of in the research world), but we also arguably exploit the kids who entrust themselves to sharing their thoughts publicly.

Theres a real place for involving kids in research, and it works best when they feel heard and respected. Research can in fact promote empowerment and advocacy, especially when it involves youth who have been marginalized in some way. The best youth-oriented nonprofits and church-based ministries do find ways to listen well to adolescents in their communities, including surveys, focus groups, interviews, and even panels. And they do it without leaving kids feeling exploited or celebritized by the process.

What about your ministry? How do you balance listening to teens insights (or utilizing research of/about teens) with respecting their dignity and voice in the process?

Brad M. Griffin

Brad M. Griffin is the Senior Director of Content for the Fuller Youth Institute (FYI), where he develops research-based training for youth workers and parents. A speaker, blogger, and volunteer youth pastor, Brad is the coauthor of Faith in an Anxious World, Growing Young, several Sticky Faith books, Every Parent’s Guide to Navigating Our Digital World, and the series Can I Ask That?: 8 Hard Questions about God and Faith. Brad and his family live in Southern California.


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