3. Understanding of involvement

Below, involvement means influencing children and adolescents, in some connections also young adults, for all the areas of life which affect them, be they social areas (German Lower House 2020, p.15 und 133 et seqq.), subjects and contents, be they processes and structures and others. So it is a question of inclusion in decision and elaboration processes, of co-determination and involvement. The central thing is that involvement does not remain external or decorative, but aims at highly effective and sustainable involvement, that involvement of children, adolescents and young adults “has relevant effects on decisions” (Straßburger/Rieger 2019b, p.17).

The spaces which are above all central for children and adolescents are social areas such as the family, day care centres, school, the suburb, the direct residential environment and the various offers of children’s and adolescents’ work or educational aids, but also digital platforms. The subjects and contents of participation can be just as varied as the spaces: projects and decisions of political institutions such as town councils or district assemblies, state parliaments or the German Federal Parliament and also the communal administrations and ministries which influence young people’s lives, but also subjects within the institution, such as design of rooms, the offer and the planning of excursions and leisure time activities.

An essential precondition of such an understanding of participation is availability of real and effective spaces for action and decision for children, adolescents and young adults. The possibilities of action and decision and co-responsibility necessary for this must be granted to the young people by the adult actors – although it must be taken into account that this is specified very differently in the individual constellations. In addition, the fact that access to possibilities of involvement is designed transparently and as inclusively as possible is of elementary significance. It is important that young people need differing forms of addressing and access in accordance with their age and their abilities, their socio-economic situation, their legal status, their gender, their sexual identity, their level of education or their health constitution. This includes the necessity of also thinking about the requirements of young people with handicaps. At the same time, there must always be recognition that participation is based on voluntariness and that young people have the right not to participate.

Including oneself in participation processes means perceiving other requirements, committing oneself for one’s own requirements or those of others and agreeing on joint solutions. In consideration of the various societal interests in a living democracy, experience of self-effectivity2 is fundamental. This experience makes a contribution to children, adolescents and young adults extending their repertoire of action, experiencing and reflecting democratic processes and developing new competences.

2 Self-effectivity is understood as the formation of an attitude and conviction which puts one in a position to master one’s own life and to be able to cope with challenging situations.