In today’s world, youth come of age in one of two very different civic environments. In the developed world, youth face an unprecedented demographic trend: they are a minority group that will soon be forced to support the majority of the population socially and economically. On the other hand, in the developing world, youth have rapidly come to make up a majority of the population, yet can still feel politically disempowered and economically abandoned by civic society.
Even when youth occupy a majority position in society, however, they are a particularly vulnerable group. Worldwide, youth have been pressed into service as child soldiers and involved in drug and human trafficking. They can be affected by both the poor conditions associated with child labor and high unemployment rates. However as a largely disenfranchised group, youth populations have generally depended on others to advocate for them.
Today, young people face two unique, global issues: globalization and global warming. At the same time, the youngest generations have come of age in an environment of unprecedented potential – an interconnected world transformed by technologic advances. Though this potential has not been wholly fulfilled worldwide, proximity to a global network that tends to advantage youth over older generations has brought young people within reach of empowerment far beyond that of previous generations.
On the other hand, the consequences for youth nonparticipation can be serious. Feelings of disempowerment and isolation can leave youth susceptible to delinquency and radicalism (Schmidt et al, 2006; Chaaban, 2008). It is therefore essential that youth participation be approached not only as an issue of voter turnout, but in the context of all of the many facets of participation.