A person’s actions and contributions can enhance or diminish their mana in the eyes of others (Keelan, 2014; Ware, 2009; Ware & Walsh-Tapiata, 2010). Mana implicates rights as well as responsibilities, as expressed by the taiohi Māori participants in Ware and Walsh-Tapiata’s (2010) research. They explained that, for them, “mana included a level of self-reliance, self-determination and independent authority, but only in relation to the needs of, or benefits to, the collective” (p. 23).

There are clear links between the YDSA principle 5 of “youth participation” and the concept of mana. First, mana connects to the idea of citizenship. All citizens of a country, including young people, have rights and with those rights come responsibilities, including responsibility to the collective. Related to this, young people have agency and have a right to be involved in decisions that affect them, and to access mana-enhancing leadership and other opportunities. Mana-enhancing practice connects to the core of a “consistent strengths-based approach” (YDSA principle 3), if considering this from a broader empowerment perspective, and involves support to build skills, confidence and competency that are also intertwined with the identity development discussions captured in the above Mauri section.

Arataki (leadership) is a core concept embedded in Keelan’s (2014) MĀUI model and captures ideas of leadership associated with being adventurous, hard-working, and nurturing of others. The concept of “youth leadership” in a youth-led rather than opportunity-provided context is less well covered by the YDSA.

Young People as Citizens

Discourses regarding youth citizenship are often narrowly focused on participation in electoral processes, particularly voting in general elections. Lamentations about young people not enrolling or voting are fairly common during election time. In 2015, the National Youth Advisory Group released their submission into the inquiry regarding the 2014 General Election to the Justice and Electoral Committee, including recommendations for increasing youth participation following a 63% participation rate of youth aged 18 to 24. Young people involved in the inquiry pointed to the fact that if young people are constantly subjected to negative youth portrayals in the media, struggle to understand and access pertinent electoral campaign information, or do not have faith that their voices will have resonance with those in power, they are less likely to be engaged. The group made 11 recommendations based on their survey of young people and their experiences of election campaigns and voting. The 11 recommendations were led by two main recommendations: the introduction of compulsory civics education in school and the production of clear information about political parties and processes for new voters (National Youth Advisory Group, 2015). Optimistically, the 18–24 year old voter turnout of 69% was the highest increase (6.5%) relative to all other age grades from the 2014 to the 2017 election, an election that had the highest overall voter turnout (80%) since 2005 (Elections Electoral Commission, 2017).

For many young people, however, disengagement from electoral processes does not reflect a lack of civic engagement. Youth citizenship encompasses a wide range of facets including how young people belong, participate, and contribute to society. When broadening the definition beyond voting behavior, we see that many young people are civically engaged. The 12 to 24 year olds involved in ActionStation’s (2018) survey of young people’s perspectives on wellbeing illustrates that many young people care deeply about civic issues and are not apathetic and self-focused. Primary concerns for these young people included better protection of the natural environment, a fairer economy, and the end to oppression of marginalised groups. Further, they desire greater education on how to create meaningful change in their communities.

Instead of recognising the value and citizenship rights of young people in the present, youth are too often portrayed as citizens of the future when their views and contributions will become valid by way of becoming adults. This “futurity” argument (White, Wyn & Robards, 2017, p. 273) is often underscored by developmental psychology and neuroscientific knowledge about brain development which portrays young people as too reckless or lacking the sophisticated thinking needed for participation in social and political spheres. The deficit brain development argument has served as fuel for public discourse and related policy changes focused on increased monitoring and regulation of young people (France, 2012) and processes that limit youth input in governance (White et al., 2017).

In a similar vein, Panelli and her colleagues (2002) demonstrated how negative media discourses about young people feed into popular beliefs that youth behaviour requires increasing controls and supervision. Their review of portrayals of youth in public spaces in the Otago Daily Times demonstrated a dominant media narrative of young people as drunken, disorderly troublemakers who must be controlled. This narrative was linked to suggestions that either supervision or exclusion of youth from public space more generally is needed. Panelli et al. (2002) emphasise that providing selective access to public space denies some citizens their basic human rights. Further, as one of the few domains where young people can congregate with peers without being under the watchful eye of adults, public space provides a platform for identity exploration and expression that contributes importantly to youth development (Panelli et al., 2002; White et al., 2017). Increased regulation and privatisation of public space has substantially changed the developmental experiences of contemporary young people (White et al, 2017). This major socio-structural change may be contributing to young people spending increased time indoors and moving their socialisation activities to the digital world where many can adeptly manoeuvre out from a constant adult gaze.

We highlight these arguments not to disregard the useful insights offered by brain science (see Gluckman, 2011 for example), some of which are being used to advocate for the special care UNCROC stipulates young people deserve. For instance, the Oranga Tamariki Act 1989 has legislated changes to extend Youth Court Jurisdiction to include young people up to age 18 from July 1 2019 (Youth Court of New Zealand, 2018). However, presenting neurodevelopmental research in the absence of a socio-structural analysis undermines the evidence that the biological influences on young people’s behaviour are contextually dependent and not universal across cultures (Deane & Shepherd, 2016). Further, the absence of a systems-perspective in this debate can compromise efforts to support young people’s need for agency and their decision-making rights.

Youth Agency and Decision-Making

For young people to feel respected and be engaged as citizens, they must have opportunities to exercise greater control over what happens to them, and having a sense of agency is essential in this regard. Agency refers to the ability for young people to exert power in their own lives, and developing agency is an important part of adolescence. Agency can be enacted through decision-making, where young people influence or make decisions about issues that directly affect them. The YDSA (MYA, 2002) advocated for genuine youth participation as a contributor to healthy development. This meant moving beyond consultation to including young people in decision- making, especially in schools. Unfortunately, the same principles seem not to apply when young people deviate from “normal” developmental trajectories. The Youth Offending Strategy developed at the same time as the YDSA promoted a discourse of control rather than agency for youth offenders (Beals, 2008a) who are predominantly Māori.

In one study, young people engaged in social services (e.g., youth justice, alternative education, child welfare) described three parts to agency: making sense of the world, having a voice and being heard, and acting on the world (Munford & Sanders, 2015b). There were adults in their life who could, and did, facilitate their agency, particularly social workers. The support and advocacy provided by social workers encouraged constructive ways forward, rather than limiting young people to exercising their agency in ways that did not require adult assistance, such as running away.

Smith et al.’s (2002) Youth First study involving young people across Aotearoa New Zealand demonstrated that, at the turn of the century, one thing was clear – young people did not feel heard and their voices were silenced when it came to policy and practice decisions that directly affected them. Yet, they expressed their agency through resistance and the development of their own strategies to support each other through tough experiences. Dating further back, Kerekere (2017a) asserts that colonisation made silent the voice of children and young people along with the attempted subjugation of Māori women. Therefore, young people standing in their own truth, in their own mana is an act of decolonisation.

Participation in Governance and Leadership

Numerous institutions and organisations make decisions that directly and indirectly influence the development of young people. Theorists have argued for more youth participation in such institutions, on the basis of fairness, efficiency, and effectiveness. Following on from the seminal Youth First project (Smith et al., 2002) which highlighted how many young people were “turned off ” traditional models of youth participation (p. 175), research has explored how young people are engaged in the governance of local and national organisations and it has revealed that the problems perpetuate. For instance, research conducted with three local councils found councils were not adequately engaging with young people as decision-makers, despite a belief that young people have the ability to do so (Curran, 2011). Youth participation was largely relegated to youth councils, limiting the issues they had input on and the extent to which their viewpoints were prioritised by local councils (Curran, 2011). While youth councillors are appreciative of adult encouragement, these forums should be led by young people without being taken-over or ignored by adult decision-makers (Henley, 2015). Peteru (2006) argues that while councils talk positively about youth participation, in practice, the participation of young people and their ability to receive the benefits of participation, is lacking. Peteru (2006) also highlights the importance of contesting the “futurity” argument and seeing youth as contributors to society now, rather than just being useful in the future.

In contrast, a study investigating how young people participated in a review of Child, Youth and Family (now Oranga Tamariki) was largely positive (Fitzmaurice, 2017). In their effort to overhaul a system that was not sufficiently child-centric, CYF engaged in collaborative research with young people at the centre. Seventy-eight young people participated in interviews, co-design workshops, or a youth advisory panel. The study found the degree and type of participation of young people was meaningful, as they were included as the “experts in their own lives” (Fitzmaurice, 2017, p.48) and had the opportunity to influence decision-making.

Youth participation should also be broad and inclusive. The Principles for Youth Participation articulated by the Ministry of Youth Development suggest inviting a diverse range of young people, and working with youth organisations to access those young people who are hard to reach (MYD, 2009). There is little data about which young people get to contribute to governance, at local or national level. In the review of CYF for instance, there was a purposeful attempt for diversity of ethnicity, gender, and geographic location (Fitzmaurice, 2017), but other groups – such as Rainbow, young people with disabilities, or migrant and refugee youth – should also be sought out. Another example examining local government initiatives for youth participation found invited youth were either high achievers or ‘troublemakers’, leaving an “excluded middle” as non- participants (Nairn et al., 2006, p.261). Funaki (2017) echoes concerns about exclusion, noting that marginalised Māori and Pasifika young people are often left out of youth participation initiatives.

Social Activism and Service as Citizenship Engagement

Youth activism provides rich opportunities for civic engagement but political activism involving young people is not typically recognised as such unless it fits within the conventional norms for youth participation advocated by mainstream government institutions. Ironically, young people’s agency is undermined by these discourses. Young people are construed as not competent enough to fully grasp what they are advocating for and their behaviour often attributed to manipulating adults who use young people to advance their own agendas (White et al., 2017).

Youth engagement in activism and other forms of voluntary service confer a range of developmental benefits, but young people often confront a many other barriers that prevent their participation in such initiatives (Deane, Meissel, Moore & Gillham, 2017; Harré, 2007). Young people need to be provided with easily accessible service opportunities and afforded time to get involved. This can be difficult when trying to juggle competing demands (Harré, 2007), and this is especially so for young people living in impoverished environments who may also have to contend with transport barriers. Paradoxically, these young people are often involved in high levels of service at home, assisting with caregiving and other domestic duties while their primary caregivers work long shifts or are otherwise unavailable but this kind of contribution is not “counted” as voluntarism (Deane et al., 2017). Relatedly, Westernised definitions of civic engagement and voluntarism obscure meaningful contributions by Māori and Pasifika groups who consider service an integral human value and way of being (Wilson, 2001; Luafutu-Simpson, 2011 as cited in NZYMN, 2019) but would not necessarily label their behaviour as voluntarism (Wilson, 2001).

Confidence and Competency Development through Programme and Community Engagement

Confidence and competency development are building blocks of young people’s agency and leadership identities. Thus, these facets are core to mana-enhancing practice. Many youth development programmes strive to produce outcomes in these areas through adventure, life skills, community service, arts and mentoring activities. The evaluations we reviewed (and in some instances conducted) demonstrate that the great majority of young people involved in the studies report gains in competency and confidence domains (Chapman, Deane, Harré, Courtney & Moore., 2017; Deane, Moore, Gillham, & Brown, 2015; Deane, Harré, Moore, & Courtney, 2017; Duke of Edinburgh, 2018; Fay, 2016; Furness et al., 2017; Hayhurst et al., 2015; Heke, 2005; Hunter et al., 2013; Noonan, Bullen, & Farruggia, 2012; Rodney Economic Development Trust, 2008; Turner & Schroder, 2014, 2017; Turner, Schroder, & McKay, 2014; Walls, Deane, & O’Connor, 2016; William Pike Award, 2018; YWCA Auckland, 2015). A few studies demonstrate teacher, caregiver or other stakeholder confirmations that these are positive developmental experiences (Deane & Harré, 2014; Deane et al., 2017; Dutton, 2014; Fay, 2016; Turner & Schroder, 2015; YWCA Auckland, 2015), whereas other studies indicate mixed perceptions (Chapman et al., 2017; MacDonald, Bourke, Berg, & Burgon 2015).

Some of the above cited evaluation studies include descriptions of the programme mechanisms thought to drive empowering outcomes and these align with the programme drivers described in other youth development literature (e.g., Ball, 2010; MYD, 2009; Wayne Francis Charitable Trust – Youth Advisory Group, 2011). Skill and confidence building often arise from confronting challenges, trying new experiences (Deane & Harre, 2014; Deane et al., 2015; Salvation Army, 2017; YWCA, 2015), opportunities for agency and decision-making (Burnett, 2018; Deane et al., 2015; Dutton, 2014; Salvation Army, 2017; Smit, 2016), or through creative arts (Trayes, 2009; Walls et al., 2016; Worley, 2015). Adult role models who act as guides, encouraging reflection, and peer support serve as critical props of support in these experiential learning processes (Burnett, 2018; Chapman et al., 2017; Deane & Harre, 2013, 2014; Tasi, 2009; Smit, 2016).

Burnett’s (2018) case study involving participant observation of youth engagement in Project K’s Wilderness Adventure component of the programme highlights that young people are motivated to engage in youth development activities for different reasons and at different times. Some degree of disengagement is normal and often linked to minor set-backs that compromise efficacy, but good facilitator and peer support to persevere through stumbling blocks can also lead to greater personal gains. Notably, marginalised young people involved in several different youth development programmes have reported an increased sense of safety and comfort to try different experiences and develop new skills without the sense of fear or failure they experience in other settings like school (Hollis et al., 2011; Rodney Economic Development Trust, 2008; Tasi, 2009; Walls et al., 2016).

Youth Voice in Research

Fortunately, one trend in research since the inception of the YDSA in 2002 has been the inclusion and amplification of youth voice. Recent examples include the ActionStation (2018) and What Makes Life Great? (2019) reports discussed previously. Youth voice in research can include interviews where the words of young people take centre-stage (e.g., Hollis et al., 2011, Lavini, 2011; Walls et al., 2016); research where young people collect the data that is meaningful to them (e.g., Faircloth et al., 2016; Jensen, Kaiwai, McCreanor, & Barnes, 2006); and research where young people are active in design, analysis, and interpretation as part of a youth-adult partnership (Bolstad, 2011; Gaffney et al., 2013, Kerekere 2017a). Researchers in Aotearoa New Zealand have been attentive to using the voices of some marginalised young people, such as Māori (e.g., Berryman, Eley, & Copeland, 2017; Borell, 2005) and Pasifika (e.g., Tima, 2013) young people, while others, such as Rainbow young people , young people with disabilities and refugee/migrant young people are included less often.

Berryman and colleagues (2017) posit that sharing the power in the research relationship opens up space for activism and self-determination driven “by youth, for youth”. This includes listening to and privileging their voices, then following the advice they give, informed by their own knowledge and experiences. From a rights-based perspective, Harris (2006) argues that within government and universities, perceptions of young people as research participants have shifted from vulnerable individuals who require protection to empowered citizens with the right to be engaged in research which concerns them.

Gaffney and colleagues (2013) published an article recounting their experience conducting a service evaluation with a youth advisory group, five of whom were named authors for the article. They describe the process of working with young people in this capacity, both benefits (for the evaluation and youth) and tensions, whilst emphasising the capability of young people to participate in research and evaluation.

Māori Perspectives of Youth Participation & Competency Development

Regardless of the forum or format, youth participation initiatives need to be culturally responsive. This requires investigation of whether and how youth participation is promoted in other cultures, and a commitment to Te Tiriti implies the need to uphold approaches that protect Māori culture. Whilst some aspects of traditional Māori approaches to youth participation fit well with contemporary Western youth development practice, Keelan (2014) points out that other facets sit in tension with Māori views.

In traditional Māori society, children and young people were privy to political meetings, important participants in community affairs, and supported to contribute (Baxter et al., 2016; Keelan, 2014). Accordingly, much of young people’s learning and skill development occurred alongside adults and not in educational institutions that separated them from community life as we do today. Some young people were selected for their special talents to attend whare wānanga and learn specialised skills passed down through generations but, more commonly, a young person was mentored by an elder through the practice of pukengatanga. A young person would accompany their mentor in community activities to become the knowledge link across generations (Baxter et al., 2016; Te Ora Hou, 2011). The tuakana- teina relationship whereby an older sibling or cousin would mentor a younger, less experienced whānau member was also a central feature of taiohi development (Farruggia, Bullen, Soloman et al., 2011). Evidently, creating opportunities to learn from young people is an important principle of effective youth participation today. Also in line with contemporary youth development practice, experiential learning was an important methodology in the development of taiohi in traditional Māori communities. The practice of urungatanga involved ‘education through exposure’ (Baxter et al., 2016, p. 156) where young people were put in authentic learning situations and expected to work out solutions without adult guidance (Te Ora Hou, 2011; NZYMN, 2019).

The aspects of Western youth participation theories that causes the most friction with Te Ao Māori perspectives is the notion all individuals have the right to express their opinion. This tension arises from the fact that the base unit of participation in Māori culture is the whānau thus if an issue concerns the collective, the young person’s view is only one of many interconnected perspectives. With the right to express a view comes the responsibility to share accountability for whānau outcomes. Receiving support also implies a reciprocal agreement whereby the service to whānau will be returned (Keelan, 2014). Keelan also raises concerns regarding the implicit message in the YDSA that young people “should be heard as well as seen” (p. 21). She argues that in some contexts this principle can ironically disrupt taiohi Māori participation in their own culture. She contends that Māori youth development should be inextricably tied to Māori development. This necessitates the preservation of tikanga which means young people need to understand and observe the kawa (traditional cultural protocols) of ceremonial processes that are the sites of Māori knowledge. In such circumstances there are distinct roles and responsibilities that preclude the expression of views given out of turn.