"THEY DON'T TRUST US; WE'RE JUST KIDS." VIEWS ABOUT COMMUNITY FROM PREDOMINANTLY FEMALE INNER CITY YOUTH
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The cornerstones of health promotion are the concepts of empowerment and community participation. There has been little research, however, on how these concepts are actualized within a youth population and even less from a gender perspective. Girls are socialized to be more compliant and cooperative; thus they feel less assertive to express themselves. The benefits of community participation, such as the development of personal identity and increased self-determination, may therefore be more important for girls' development. In this qualitative study I explored youth's perceptions about community, their ability to be heard, and their power to effect community change. Responses to focus groups and an on-line sentence completion exercise by 23 well-functioning, predominantly female (83%) youth, at an inner-city school in Canada, revealed that youth perceived that they were not heard and felt disempowered in the larger community. Three subthemes explain these threats to empowerment: "grown-ups run everything" (they had no actual decision-making power), "we're just kids" (they were low in the social hierarchy), and "they don't trust us" (they felt mutual mistrust of and by adults). Boys showed some evidence of feeling more empowered than girls. Boys and girls identified that they perceived they could make a difference, particularly in their school. Five themes of empowerment help to explain this perception, including, "adults who know us, trust us" (they were trusted by some adults), in school "they ask us what should we do" (they had some participation in decision making), "we can make a difference" (they felt self-efficacy), "we can do it as a group" (they had a belief in group action), and they could "get someone big so they would listen" (they demonstrated political efficacy). Implications for community health practitioners are discussed.
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