Supportive Frameworks for Youth Engagement

Supportive Frameworks for Youth Engagement

Supportive Frameworks for Youth Engagement

Supportive Frameworks for Youth Engagement


This issue explores the phenomenon of engagement in adolescence and early adulthood. The authors of this volume draw on the Good Work Project and the Alfred P. Sloan Study of Youth and Social Development, two studies using complementary methodologies, in-depth interviews, and self-reports of subjective experience in daily life. They examine why young people are drawn to certain areas of work and, once there, what sustains them. A supportive family background, mentors or role models, involvement in cooperative activities, cultivation of intrinsic interest, awareness of moral and political issues, and traits such as moral sensitivity and optimism are among the central factors that the authors explore. The better these factors are understood, the more effectively we can support youth engagement.


Jeanne Nakamura

Vital engagement, an absorbing and meaningful relation
ship between self and world, can be found in any sphere of
life. This chapter describes the general phenomenon of
vital engagement in adulthood to suggest what may lie
ahead for engaged youth

It is an abiding hope of concerned adults that young people will find goals to which they can devote themselves with genuine passion, pursuits in which they can become vitally engaged. It is important to ask how such engagement is, and thus might more often be, kindled in childhood or adolescence. This chapter focuses on a more basic question, however—what it means to be vitally engaged at all. It draws on interviews with adults who have long histories of vital engagement, in order to glean not so much what these individuals can recall about their youth but what they can communicate about their current activity, in which the phenomenon of vital engagement is clearly seen. The lives of these exemplars provide a glimpse of the possibilities that adulthood holds out to engaged youth.

The first section of the chapter introduces the notion of vital engagement, defined as an absorbing and meaningful relationship to the world. The second section discusses how relationships evolve so that the two aspects of vital engagement, absorption and subjective meaning, come together. This is neither a comprehensive review of the literature nor a report on research. Rather, the goal is to develop a picture of this form of positive experience.

Most of our field’s attention has focused on understanding either normative experience or ways in which lives are distorted by histories of adversity or

The Creativity in Later Life Project was supported by the Spencer Foundation. The Good
Work Project studies that this chapter draws on were conducted with support from the
William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, and the
John Templeton Foundation.

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