OTTAWA — The age of youth is so much more than a number, as far as the federal government is concerned.
Canadian Heritage devoted a two-page briefing note to existential question of how to define youth and concluded it was not so much a specific age range as an ever-evolving stage of life.
“Traditionally, youth might be considered adults upon reaching the age of majority . . . . However, academic literature indicates that youth transitions have now been extended among youth worldwide. Most youth are not becoming independent adults until their mid-20s or even early 30s,” said the Sept. 15 memo prepared for the deputy minister of Canadian Heritage and released through an access-to-information request.
Joel Westheimer, a professor of education at the University of Ottawa, said youth has always been tough to define, even more so in the age of so-called boomerang kids.
“It has to do with where someone is in their education, where they are in their financial independence, their social independence, and all of that,” Westheimer said Wednesday.
“Youth seems to be extending infinitely as kids move back into their parents homes and become dependent again . . . . People are delaying launching their regularly scheduled life for longer and longer, but that unfortunately is coupled with a trend in our culture to undervalue youth and have low expectations of youth contributions,” Westheimer said.
The briefing note also talks about how the changing job market, as so-called millennials know all too well, means internships remain relevant well past the undergraduate years.
“As more and more occupations require higher education and post-graduate degrees, the average age of students looking to enter the workforce (increases) . . . . Therefore, it is logical that youth internship programs find people in their late 20s, or even early 30s, to be eligible,” the briefing note said.
The note lists a number of government-funded programs geared to youth that define the age group in vastly different ways.
For example, Canadian Heritage has a program called Youth Exchanges Canada, which helps participants travel to different provinces, for youth between the ages of 12 and 17.
The Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development, meanwhile, offers work experience through the International Experience Canada program for youth 18 to 35 years old.
Then there is Youth Take Charge, also from Canadian Heritage, which supports community-based projects led by youth that is open for participants from 7 years old all the way to 30.
Cathleen Cogan Bird said she has seen the nebulousness of the definition of youth in her work as executive director at the Forum for Young Canadians, which is a program strictly for youth aged 14 to 19 but also supports its alumni into the university years.
“You can see that they are at different levels of maturity and different areas of development and some are further along in finding their voice than others, so absolutely there is a difference between their mental age and their physical age in many cases,” she said in a telephone interview Wednesday.
Tim Warmington, a spokesman for Canadian Heritage, declined a request to interview an official, but emailed a statement explaining the need for the briefing note.
“The youth demographic is one which is quickly and continuously evolving. And as part of its regular policy review function, the Department periodically considers the impacts of its programs on stakeholders to ensure that youth appropriately benefit from its interventions,” Warmington wrote in the email Wednesday.