One of the most important questions that is never asked in the youth voice movement is “Which youth are listened to?”, which includes “Which youth are involved?”
When you look at the young people in your program, organization, or community who are “involved”, what do they look like? What do they act like? What attitudes or opinions do they share? Inherent in this is the question of authenticity, as in, “How much does youth involvement represent what youth actually think?” All these are critical questions that have to be answered before, during, and after a youth involvement activity, program, or organization is underway.
To help people think more deliberately about these questions, I generally break down all Youth Voice with four simple questions for teachers, youth workers, and youth themselves. I encourage people to answer these questions with radical honesty and transparency.
Remember that Youth Voice is defined as any expression of young people, including their ideas, reflections, actions, opinions, knowledge, and wisdom.
1. Who is the Youth Voice activity, program or organization for?
Our Activity is for Traditionally Involved Youth…
- Are involved in many youth leadership or youth involvement activities
- Represent adult opinions through parroting or mimicry
- Are typically motivated by adult acknowledgment
- Settle for mediocre or negative forms of involvement, including decoration, tokenism, and manipulation
- Do not become involved in formal school, organizational, or community involvement activities
- Represent their own opinions, or do not share their voices at all
- Are typically not motivated by adult acknowledgment
- If they commit, when they commit, they are motivated by their own interest rather than extrinsic rewards
- If they become involved, they are generally self-motivated to become involved
- The outcomes are predictable: youth generally say what adults want them to, how adults want them to say it, where adults expect them to say it, when they’re expected to say it, from who can be expected to say it.
Our Activity is for Inconvenient Youth Voice…
- Young people are encouraged to represent their most radically honest opinions, ideas, actions, and wisdom
- Adults are encouraged to simply listen to Youth Voice without needing to respond, react, or otherwise engage during the process of Youth Voice being revealed
- Intact incentives have been identified and revealed to youth participants that benefit them directly