Drink Tank

Youth engagement & alcohol

Last month, Ychange? brought together nearly 200 young people from across the Northern Territory to discuss alcohol, binge drinking, and how they can play a role in changing Australia’s drinking culture.

Through graffiti workshops, drama, drumming, focus groups and presentations, participants were given the opportunity to learn, share ideas, and create resources for their peers.

One of the key questions that emerged was, “what would a community that actively involved young people look like?”, as well as “how can community service providers better engage with young people in general, as well as around alcohol in particular?”

Some of the key messages for service providers that came across were:

  • the need for more accessible engagement through both formal and informal meetings and mentoring
  • improved flexibility in how, when and where young people are engaged
  • making sure you are talking with young people – not to them

It is essential that service providers engage with young people where they are and communicate in their language – and yes, this does mean getting involved in social media!

Young people want to have a say – all they need is a non-threatening, non-judgemental place for them to do so. Oh, and minimise the professional mumbo jumbo!

Most importantly, young people want to communicate in a place that truly values their input. Always remember that young people are smart, they can tell if they are just being used to tick a box, and they’ll lost interest pretty quickly.

Show them how you’re using the information they give and why it’s important that they have their say. If there are limitations in what you and your service can and can’t do, explain what these limitations are, and some potential alternatives.

Adults tend to underrate the importance of fun. so keep your events and engagement activities active and interesting.

Even better, have them designed and run by young people themselves. That means less work for you, happier young people, and better engagement and communication – everyone wins!

Get your engagement right, and you’ll have a near endless source of ideas, insights and connections to delve into.

Not sure how to engage with young people, or even where to start?

There’s plenty of literature out there – check out this blog post on genuine youth participation, and this one from Canada which is a brief literature review on youth led health promotion, youth engagement and participation. But really, the best way to find out how to work better with young people in your area is to simply:

Get out there and talk to them! Have a conversation – you never know where it might lead.


Anna Ashenden

Anna’s background is in psychology and she has spent more than four years living and working in communities throughout the Caribbean and Latin America. She recently returned to Australia as a Project Manager for a youth-led health promotion initiative “Ychange?” in Darwin while studying her Master of International and Community Development. She is passionately barefoot, addicted to ice cream, and a firm believer in following your dreams.


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