Creativity, government, schools, empowerment, community development… As the banner of youth voice is unfurled around the world, we see more young people standing up in unprecedented numbers than ever before. They’re demanding what is rightfully theirs: High-quality living, hopeful lives, and democratic realities. We’re just see this movement emerge like never before, and must keep pushing for it to grow.
Youth voice is any expression of any young person, anywhere, about anything. For a long time, people got that wrong by defining it only as things adults wanted to hear from young people. Youth were wrangled into adult-driven, adult-centered communities and were only asked about things that adults are concerned with. We heard youth opinions about topics like philanthropy, youth service, volunteering, and youth services in the name of youth voice for a long time.
However, a lot of my writing, research, and training has focused on listening to youth voice that didn’t fit that description. I’ve found the most vibrant action is happening outside that old spectrum. So I redefined youth voice, expanded it, and showed how we’re seeing the breadth and depth of youth voice that is happening specifically from youth perspectives, in a wide-open, all views welcome way.
All this voice shows how youth need new roles throughout our communities. Instead of being passive recipients of adult-driven community programs, all young people need to be active partners in our homes, nonprofits, faith places, parks, government agencies, and all places throughout our communities. This can happen in a lot of ways, and here are a few!
33 Steps to Youth Voice
- BE—Go to where youth are, and stop insisting they come to where you’re at.
- TEACH—Teach youth about your community in the broadest ways, including culture, geography, economics, history, and more.
- BUILD—Help youth understand different ways of seeing community issues.
- TRAIN—Train adult providers about the difference between Youth as Recipients and Youth as Partners, and why that’s an important distinction.
- EDUCATE—Increase the understanding youth have of democracy and government, including what it is, how it operates, who is in it, where it fails and when it succeeds.
- LISTEN—Develop opportunities for youth to share their unfettered concerns about their communities with adults.
- POSITION—Create formal positions for youth to occupy throughout your community.
- CREATE—Create programs with youth as partners in identifying, planning, facilitating, evaluating, and critiquing throughout.
- PARTNER—Co-design community engagement plans with every youth in your program.
- MENTOR—Assign all youth a youth mentor to introduce them to the culture and traditions of your community; mutual mentoring matters.
- PLAN—Help youth plan, advocate, and enact yearlong program calendars for organizations that affect them and others.
- DESIGN—Engage youth in designing and redesigning programs that serve them and their communities.
- STEP ASIDE—Encourage nontraditional youth leaders to co-facilitate regular programs with adults.
- SPEND—Invest fully in youth programming and allow youth to become active partners in organizational budgeting.
- HIRE—Give youth positions to become regular, paid youth program assistants and leaders.
- FACILITATE—Partner together youth to form facilitation teams that lead programs.
- SEE—Acknowledge youth teaching younger youth in lower age groups with program credit and other acknowledgment.
- SUBSTANTIATE—Co-create professional development with youth for adult staff about issues that matter to them.
- EVALUATE—Assign youth to create meaningful program evaluations of themselves.
- SYSTEMITIZE—Partner with youth to create evaluations of programs, curriculum, facilitation styles, organizations, and communities.
- EMPOWER—Train youth how to evaluate adult facilitator performance.
- LEAD—Create opportunities for youth to lead community events.
- GUIDE—Create positions for youth to participate in nonprofit boards, neighborhood communities, and other systemic activities.
- AUTHORIZE—Give youth on nonprofit boards full-voting positions and equal numbers of positions with adults.
- EQUATE—Create enough positions for youth to be equally represented in every neighborhood committee and meeting.
- MEET—Facilitate all neighborhood activities in ways that are engaging for all participants, including youth.
- RULE—Help youth create and enforce activity policies throughout the community.
- DECIDE—Partner with youth in nonprofit personnel decisions.
- ORGANIZE—Work with youth to organize public campaigns for neighborhood improvement.
- INTEGRATE—Create opportunities for youth to join all existing neighborhood committees as equal members.
- DETERMINE—Present youth data and information so they understand why and how neighborhoods can and should change.
- EQUIP—Position youth to educate adults throughout your community, including parents, leaders, policymakers and others, about challenges that matter to them.
- INFUSE—Encourage youth with formal and informal opportunities to present their concerns.
The very best thing about all this? Its all backed up by research and practice from across the United States and around the world! For more than a decade I’ve been finding examples, collecting tools, and sharing best practices and findings from researchers, teachers, and students. I share it all free on this blog and in The Freechild Project Youth Voice Toolbox, free.