In the effort to guide our youth in a direction that promotes financial economic opportunity, continued growth, and enhanced education, it is imperative that the Obama administration take a long hard look at the signals that they send. Time has proven that the old method of doing things is simply that-old.

Youth are non-responsive to the methods that brow-beat them, and attack the popular culture that they have embraced and identify with. The fact that popular culture is often at the core of their personalization, is a fact that must be understood and dealt with in a manner that separates whatever disdain may be held by policy makers for this popular culture from the positive that can be derived and utilized in reaching them on their level.

By understanding what motivates and drives our youth, recognizing and acknowledging their concerns, and making a genuine effort to relate to them by creating some sort of common ground, policy makers open the lines of communication and begin to bridge the gap that has been ever-widening. The age old “Father knows best,” theory has been generally based on a platform that suggests that “I talk and you listen.”

This dominant and dictatorship method does not work, and often serves to make youth “turn up the volume” of the music in their heads. When it becomes clear that they are the only ones grooving to the beat of what drives them, they shut down and look elsewhere to find the answers and help they need. Often times, they don’t find it, and the downward spiral becomes a cycle of despair and inevitable doom.

Obviously as concerned citizens, no one wants to see a child fail, however not many policy makers are willing to take a step back and realize that perhaps their methodology is one of the barriers that makes success a pipe dream versus a reality for our nation’s youth and young adults. Policy makers and society as a whole have to shed their judgmental ideations about the popular culture teens have adopted, and begin to ask the hard questions. What is the message?

The seeming fixation on fast cash and “Pimpin Rides’” don’t necessarily indicate that teens condone the methods of obtaining the lifestyle depicted, but it does indicate that financial stability is of huge importance. Teens want to have some control over their futures and having grasped the dynamics of society, they do understand that money brings power. What parents, educators, and teen programs must do is find the thread that ties the ability to gain financial prosperity with the necessity of becoming educationally, emotionally, and physically sound.

By making this connection, policy makers have introduced a path that is alternative to the negatives that they perceive in popular culture, and still strikes commonality with youth by addressing their underlying concerns about their future. Connecting with youth is by far a task that is ongoing, and requires policy makers and practitioners to develop a systematic way of utilizing youth popular culture, peer influence and youth involvement in a way that promotes life, freedom and young people’s future economic opportunity.

This stuff is not taught: it’s caught. Policy makes must keep their thumb on the pulse of what relates to youth. The difference is that with today’s youth, that thumb cannot be used to apply the pressure of dominance that once worked. Teens are smarter and more conscious than ever, and want to be acknowledged as the authority of what is important to them as opposed to being told that they are giving up on their country when they drop-out of school. Adults must relinquish this notion, and consider that it’s us who gave up on them.

Edward DeJesus is the President and Founder of the Youth Development and Research Fund (www.ydrf.com). Reprint permitted with the author’s expressed permission from the Youth Engagement Blog.