Minimialism and Positive Youth Development

 Minimalism and Positive Youth Development

As I mentioned in one of my first posts, I’ve been reading and thinking about minimalism for a little while now. Over the last few days, I’ve been preparing an “example” post for a blog my Youth Development through Recreation and Sport class with be contributing to. Not wanting to “steal” a blogging topic that might at the forefront of their minds (e.g., social media, selfies, trends related to the lives of youth that could be connected to youth development), I decided to write about minimalism and its connection to youth development. I enjoyed the processes of using my “leisure” lens and my “positive youth development” lens to explore the concept of a minimalist lifestyle. I decided to rework that post I developed for my students and expand my discussion here.

Minimalism, according to Zen Habits blog host, Leo Babauta, is “simply getting rid of things you do not use or need, leaving an uncluttered, simple environment and an uncluttered, simple life. It’s living without an obsession with material things or an obsession with doing everything and doing too much. It’s using simple tools, having a simple wardrobe, carrying little and living lightly.”

In considering minimalism’s potential contribution to positive youth development, I decided to consider the principles of minimalism and link those with how they may help youth acquire the Search Institute’s Developmental Assets. The Search Institute has done extensive research with young people in the United States and developed a framework of 40 Developmental Assets which “identifies a set of skills, experiences, relationships, and behaviors that enable young people to develop into successful and contributing adults”. These include two categories of assets. First, there are the external assets (support, empowerment, boundaries and expectations, and constructive use of time). External assets are the positive experiences that youth receive from the world around them – their family, school, neighborhood, sport club. Second, there are internal assets (commitment to learning, positive values, social competencies, and positive identity). The internal assets identify the characteristics and behaviors that reflect positive internal growth and development of young people. Research shows that the more assets that youth have, the more likely they are to, for example, be persistent in the face of challenge and adversity, take care of their own health, and be involved in leadership roles. The more assets youth have, the less likely they are to engage in underage drinking, use tobacco, and be involved in violent behavior. These are just some of the powerful outcomes associated with acquiring the assets.

In reviewing the Search Institute’s 40 Developmental Assets, I considered whether youth may be more likely to acquire a particular asset if they were living in an environment that promoted aspects of minimalism. I focus on three asset groups here:

Constructive Use of Time Assets: One minimalist blogger talks about killing the Internet. He suggests that no Internet at home means more time to do meaningful things – read, write, exercise, spend time with friends. If a family with children cut the Internet this might provide opportunities to acquire assets associated with Constructive Use of Time which include the following:

  • Creative activities: Young person spends 3 or more hrs/week in lessons or practice in music, theatre, or other arts
  • Youth programs: Young person spends 3 or more hrs/week in sports, clubs, or organizations at school/or in the community
  • Religious community: Young person spends 1 or more hrs/week in activities in a religious institution
  • Time at home: Young person is out with friends “with nothing special to do” 2 or fewer nights/week (meaning, the youth spends time at home or is engaged in activities aside from “hanging out” with friends)

It is possible that not having the Internet would reduce the amount of time youth are engaged in surfing the Internet and participating in social media activities. This may open the door for more time and opportunity to engage in creative activities such as music or art. If a youth already has the skills or is learning, there would be more time for learning, practice, and enjoyment of that creative activity. Perhaps it would mean more quality time interacting with parents and other family members developing relationships and sharing experiences. The money that was once devoted to Internet costs could be redirected to the young person’s participation in sports or other extracurricular activities. One might also argue that without the draw of the Internet at home, a young person might be more interested in participating in school-related activities (e.g., student council, attending school sports events or activities, volunteering with school initiatives).

Social Competency Assets: Another blogger on the topic of minimalism, Joshua Becker, discusses that less toys for children (something that would be consistent with a minimalist lifestyle) can be very beneficial. He suggests that children with fewer toys have better social skills because they interact more and develop relationships with other kids and adults. He suggests that fewer toys means more sharing, collaborating, and working together. It is possible then that fewer toys could assist in developing two social competency assets: the interpersonal competence asset (the young person with this asset has empathy, sensitivity, and friendship skills) and the peaceful conflict resolution asset (young person seeks to resolve conflict nonviolently). If fewer toys does indeed increase social interaction, it is possible that from a young age, children have an opportunity to develop and practice skills that lead to acquiring these two social competency assets.

Positive Values: Mike Burns, author of the blog “The Other Side of Complexity” talks about  involving children in decluttering. Getting rid of those things you don’t need or love is a step many families take when working toward living a minimalist lifestyle. He suggests that it involving youth in the process may teach both individual and communal responsibility. One of the positive values assets is personal responsibility – the young person accepts and takes responsibility for his/her behavior. The lessons of decluttering could include the child developing a sense of responsibility to look after what he/she has because there is not an endless supply of “things” or “things” are not being bought all of the time. Maybe there are lessons linked with environmental responsibility – how our consumptive behavior affects the environment (and not in a positive way) and that the choices we make individually (related to consuming and throwing out more and more things) has an impact that reaches far beyond the individual.

Another positive value asset is caring. Caring is an asset whereby the young person places high value on helping other people. Many articles I’ve read about principles of minimalism discuss that higher value is placed on experiences and relationships with others than on things. This value or principle associated with minimalism may be influential in helping youth to learn and gain experience with caring for others. Youth living in a family that practices a minimalist lifestyle may see their parents invest their time in others – neighbors and family, for example. Their parents may be engaged with activities within community groups. At times, their engagement with others may be to share experiences and have fun and at other times, being involved in those relationships may mean providing care. Having parents who model this value and who encourage this principle of valuing relationships and others may help to involve youth in caring activities and develop youth who care.

I’d enjoy hearing about the experiences of those who are raising children while practicing (or moving toward) a minimalist lifestyle. Are you seeing your children develop some skills and behaviors that will help them to reach adulthood with the assets I’ve discussed? What other developments do you notice that are positive?

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