Youth voice is any way youth choose to represent themselves. Youth voice is shared through ideas, opinions, attitudes, knowledge, and actions that are expressed individually or collectively; for the benefit of themselves or others.
Recently, I was leading a workshop for parents and youth on youth voice at home. During a brainstorming activity, the parents made a much longer list of ways youth share their voices at home than youth did. During their listing, parents said youth voice included things like…
- Staring at the TV
- Spending a lot of time on social media
- Not sharing in family chores
The youth immediately protested and said those things aren’t their voices. When they share youth voice at home, these youth said it was the positive things like…
- Helping younger siblings with homework
- Doing chores around the house without being asked
- Answering your parent every time they call for you, even when its annoying
Then one of the youth participants said,
What makes youth voice fake?
- When adults decide if youth voice should be heard
- When adults tell youth what to say
- When adults limit or direct the ways youth voice is expressed
- When adults decide which youth voices are heard and which are ignored or silenced
- When adults identify when youth voice should be heard
What makes youth voice real?
- When youth share their ideas, opinions, attitudes, knowledge or actions freely
- When youth decide what to say
- When youth decide how to share their voices
- When all youth share their voices freely
- When youth decide its time to share youth voice
See the difference there? Things that youth decide are youth voice; things adults decide for youth are not youth voice.
That didn’t really answer the challenge between the youth and adults in my workshop though. All the activities described by adults, which included not paying attention, not doing what they were asked and zoning out, were done by youth and observed by adults. All the things described by youth, including being kind, doing as asked and contributing around the house, were ways they wanted to be seen.
What do you think the right answer is? Share your thoughts in the comments here.