Today’s teens are more socially conscious than any prior generation (Cone 2006). They want to change the world and consider climate change and environment a priority (TOP 2009). But they recognize to foster change they need support. As Jasmine, a Chicago Botanic Garden (CBG) College First student, said, “They’re always, ‘you can do it, nothing’s stopping you.’ But you need supports—money-wise, big corporations, and people to help out.” Cultural institutions could provide that support. However, museums have not traditionally engaged in social change efforts; their teen programs typically focus on education—teaching to state and federal standards. Yet youth and families trust museums (IMLS 2008) and look to them for recommendations on environmental actions they can take (TOP 2009). 

Museums could use this trust to support social change among teens through social media. Recent studies (Rainie et al. 2011, NCoC 2009) found that youth use social technology for civic purposes, and there is a strong correlation between users of social media and volunteerism. Although museums and zoos typically receive low visitation from ages 14-19, 93% of teens 12-17 go online (Lenhart et al. 2010). This group averages 15 hours a week on the internet, and top activities are watching videos and social networking (Flanagin & Metzger 2010). Teens from low income families, a target audience for many museums, are most likely to use social network sites (Lenhart et al. 2010). 

Teens use a variety of online tools, but, with mentoring, those tools can be a means to make their communications more powerful and outcome-oriented. YouthMuse’s museum, zoo and aquarium partners recognize that successful students need excellent communication skills in today’s media-driven environment. They also see, in these times of changing demographics and heightened community expectations, museums need to demonstrate increased relevance (Janes 2009); providing support for social change could be that “new” relevance.

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Youth in Museums and Libraries: A Practitioner's Guide

A Guide for Engaging Youth in Leadership and Decision-Making in Service-Learning Programs

Building Effective Youth Councils

Generation On: What Youth Can Do (Begin at page 32) 

Youth Issues, Youth Voices: A Guide for Engaging Youth and Adults in Public Dialogue and Problem-Solving

The Green Street Guide to Authentic Youth Engagement

A Resource for Involving Young People in Decision Making (New Zealand Ministry of Social Development)

Youth Participatory Evaluation

Are you creating space for youth to use in your museum? Check out this handbook.