7 Steps to ConnectYoung People And Social Change

You can take action and connect young people with social change right now!

1. Engage Young People in Social Change
Who better to work with children and youth than their peers? Learn how to empower young people to change the world by building engaged neighborhoods, schools and communities. START EMPOWERING YOUNG PEOPLE

2. Connect Young People + Social Change in Communities
Nonprofits, faith-based communities, and other community-based organizations should actively engage young people throughout their lives. This includes educational, recreational, religious, government, and other activities that happen out-of-school—before school, after school, during school breaks, and in the summertime. MAKE COMMUNITIES MORE ENGAGING

3. Do It in Schools

Young people spend the majority of their day at school. Students, teachers, school support staff, education leaders, parents, and other communities members can support in engaging young people to change the world. GET RESOURCES FOR SCHOOLS

4. Donate to the Freechild Project
Your donation will go toward our efforts to engage young people in changing the world. Its NOT tax-deductible and it still makes a difference. DONATE TO CHANGE THE WORLD

5. Train Others
Want to be more active along with your donation? Lead by example. Use our resources to train others to successfully engage young people and transform communities. START TRAINING NOW

6. Get Your Organization Involved
Engaging young people to change the world is a goal many people can support. Become a local collaborator or establish a volunteer relationship with us and together we can do great work. LEARN HOW WE CAN WORK TOGETHER

7. Transform Your Own Actions
Work throughout your own life to engage young people more effectively. Also work throughout your organization to create more engaged, more active, more just, and more engaging places for young people to change the world. ADD TO YOUR TOOLBOX
Let us know what YOU are doing to connect young people and social change today!
Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!

Changing Roles of Young People

Why should only affable white boys get to be seen as the
young captains of industry?

It seems that the story of human existence is one of innovation and transformation. Through epochs everything changes, from the earliest homo erectus though to today, and onward into tomorrow. Despite concentrating on industry, art, technology, and culture as the modicum through which that change happens, society is missing the mark when it comes to identifying the major indicator of innovation and transformation: Young people. 

For more than 2,000 years, children and youth have been the most obvious markers for all things transformative. Children in ancient Greece were seen as the bearers of civilization, and were prepared for their duties until they were seen as adults. In ancient China, children of many social classes were seen and treated as important for their nation’s future, as well as their own family’s future. At the time when North America was stolen from American Indian tribes, the children of Europeans here were treated harshly and largely seen as sub-human. 
So the historic trends show us back-and-forth treatment. Modern times have been no different. In my Short History of Youth Voice in the United States, I suggested that this treatment is a sign of the times. Today, I’m going to build on that premise and suggest that we must consciously, positively transform the roles of young people throughout society or risk having society dictate terrible, meaningless roles for them.
For too long, young people have been seen as the passive recipients of adult-driven culture handed to them. As an inheritance, this has been a sham. Children and youth are active creators of their private worlds as well as the larger families, communities, and cultures in which they live. In the West today, young people are living in a dichotomous world, on one side alienated and isolated because they aren’t adults, and on the other fetishized and infantalized because they represent the wellspring of eternal youth which adults apparently should feign for.
In reality, young people are neither wholly infants or wholly adult, but instead should be seen specifically for what they are: Children and youth. These are their unique, important positions. They matter not because of their transitory nature, but because of the substantive and unique placements they occupy throughout society. Because of these placements, we need to re-envision the roles of young people to be seen as active partners throughout our culture. 
These active partnerships extend from early childhood in the home into young adulthood living independently from families. Throughout the journey, locations for these partnerships to exist range from home to community center, school to faith community, government to playground, and everywhere in between and beyond. The roles themselves, while highly relevant, are strangely familiar: Children and youth as planners, advisors, designers, teachers, lobbyists, trainers, philanthropists, politicians, recruiters, social entrepreneurs, paid staff, mentors, decision makers, activity leaders, policy makers, and so much more.
These positions are already being occupied by young people right now. In some cases, they’re reserved for middle and upper class white kids; in some others, they’re specifically for young people of color and young people in low-income communities, or runaway and homeless youth. They’re happening right now; why should they be the exclusive purview of young people who are fortunate enough to stumble upon them? Why aren’t these changing roles for all young people everywhere all the time?
At the same time those roles seem important, upon further examination we discover they aren’t. It’s not really what young people do, it’s about how it is done. Anyone can be the happiest janitor in the world, if they know that position is important, empowered, and valued by everyone else.
We need engaging cultures where the roles of young people are seen as fluid and transitional, yet secure and relevant. Acknowledging what children and youth already know, and expanding their exposure to, knowledge of, and opportunities to generate new thinking about these roles is what is key. That is what full, active partnerships with young people look like, and that is why we need to change the roles of young people today.
Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!

Youth Segregation

Youth segregation rages across western society. Moving young people into full-time schools, part time afterschool programs for children and youth, youth-exclusive work environments, youth-isolated commercial spaces, and excluding them from public, democratic duties and spaces is creating a crisis of purpose, possibilities, and hope in our times, right now.

Youth segregation is terrible for our society. Aside from tearing at the very fabric of democracy, it is destroying cultures, thrashing at the economy, prohibiting innovation, and decimating community.
  • Democracy—Youth segregation undermines the civic will of individuals to contribute to the community and societies they live in. It disallows young people from voting, running for office, speaking in many public venues, and from participating in the general democratic life of their communities.
  • CulturesBy keeping young people from being able to produce, critically analyze, and share real culture, adults also keep them from sharing, maintaining, and building upon what already exists. Reduced to the role of passive recipient, youth segregation is killing off any sense of history and purpose from culture.
  • EconomyContributing more than 5% to the global economy in the last decade, young peoples’ economic impact is not underestimated by the commercial sector. Yet, they routinely rely on the rampant segregation of children and youth from adults in order to sell their wares. Identifying alienated youth subcultures and fostering parental and adult indifference to young peoples’ spending, saving, and earning habits only engenders further youth segregation from adults.
  • Innovation—Stories about young inventors and young entrepreneurs abound. But young innovators aren’t simply middle class white kids hellbent on making millions of dollars. Instead, there are young social entrepreneursyouth activists, advocates, and educators who are impacting their communities with radical and pragmatic innovations from this century and beyond. They’re routinely segregated from adults, limiting them to critical exposure for their efforts and sustainability.
  • CommunityExcluded from the formal decision-making of democracy in society, youth segregation also happens throughout communities. Young people’s interests are routinely left off the table, and they aren’t educated about what effects them the most. Because of this, they can’t stand up in the nonprofits, schools, and even homes where they spend their days. 

More than a decade ago, I started The Freechild Project with the intention of demonstrating how young people and their adult allies are combating youth segregation in the U.S. and around the world. Today, there’s a growing awareness of what’s happening and the needle is starting to move. The examples above are just the tip of the iceberg for all the ways youth segregation happens. We need to do more.
What are YOU doing to stop youth segregation today? Learn more at freechild.org.

Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!

Youth On A Pedestal

There’s a special place where young people are placed in stark contrast to their roles in our daily lives. Typically, young people are segregated from adults, compelled to follow rules and laws they didn’t make, and shown what to do with themselves through advertising, education, family life, and community norms. Nowhere along the way are they treated as full humans, capable of contributing to the larger world around them for their benefit and the benefit of others.

Until they get to that special place of being Youth On A Pedestal.

From there, young people are allowed to step above and beyond their peers. They can glimpse out across the lands and see the places where adults see. Their access grows and they become able to see where their age group peers stand, as well as some adults. With an increased amount of education and opportunity, these young people can grow still more powerful, acting as little adults who are controllers of their fates and masters of their domains.

In this strange upside down kingdom, these children and youth can boss around and manipulate adults to get what they want. They drive conversation, control situations, and seemingly move mountains compared to their peers. With experiences as top performing students, athletes, musicians, scholars, performers, and more, they seem mighty.

Looking up at them isn’t a particularly pleasant experience for all their peers. Sure, some friends hold up the pedestal, putting their backs and hands to the column to ensure their friends’ security. Others step back and stare up in awe, wondering how that kid got that power, while others still throw rocks from the distance and try to knock that youth off their pedestal.

The challenge for Youth Voice programs today is not to foster these particular pedestals for youth. This is called “romanticizing” Youth Voice. It positions young people as speakers at adult conferences; puts students in charge of the school board for a day; makes some youth shine while others throttle, stuck in gear without the resources and attention they need to move forward. Well-meaning adults perpetuate this by making formal youth leadership opportunities distinctly for so-called Youth Leaders. These young people often already have a lot of access to the adult work, and are merely gaining more as their pedestals are made taller.

Solving the crisis of youth pedestalling is going to take more than a blog post. Its going to take a commitment by every adult who works with youth to stop assuming young people need to be held up high above their peers. Instead, we must create opportunities for all children and youth to experience having the spotlight shine on them for who they are, rather than simply how we want them to be.

The real root cause of youth pedestalling is adultism. We, as adults, have distinct ideas about who we want to be around and how we want them to behave, every single one of us. The young people who shine through the morass of youth segregation and demonstrate their effectiveness at being adult-like are generally the ones we place on pedestals. The inverse is true, too: The young people who don’t behave how we want them to become disengaged.

How do you treat children and youth you particularly like or get along with? Do they stand equal to their peers and adults, or do they stand above everyone else? Putting youth on a pedestal does no favors for them, and ultimately undermines your best intentions. Is that what you really want?

Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!

Equality, Self-Led, or Equity? The 6-7-8 Debate

Somewhere in the realm of youth participation there’s a geeky, but important, argument that’s been raging for almost 20 years. Its the 6, 7, 8 Debate, and following is my response.

Roger Hart, then a research sociologist with UNESCO, studied several hundred organizations that involved children in decision-making in the early 1990s. In his 1994 “Ladder of Children’s Participation”, he proposed that the pinnacle experience for children in organizational decision-making was to initiate action and share decision-making with adults.

Since that time, the Ladder has been used and misused, reinterpreted hundreds of times, and critiqued until groups were blue in the face. People have made different models and identified different pathways towards children’s participation, young peoples’ involvement, and youth engagement, all in response to Hart’s Ladder.

All the while there’s been a debate raging about the pinnacle experience for young people in decision-making. The question stems from whether it is best for adults to initiate activities and share decision-making with young people; young people to initiate and direct decision-making in their activities; or for young people to initiate activities and share decisions with adults. Through his research, Hart came to the conclusion these were the best positions for young people.

After spending several years grappling with these rungs on the ladder myself, I have come to understand that Hart was misunderstanding the opportunities that presented themselves to him. In the late 1990s, while reading the stories he included in his seminal work, Children’s Participation: The theory and practice of involving young citizens in community development and environmental care, I saw the misalignment of his understanding against the practice I’d experienced through my previous decade-plus work in the field of youth development. Now, more than another decade later I’ve come to understand why they seemed katywampus. That’s because they were.

Like many others, I have recently re-envisioned the ladder to accommodate my new understanding. However, instead of merely installing alternative words or shuffling around different words to other places, I have added wholly new concepts to the ladder. I still believe illustrating the differences in involvement this way can help adults and young people critically examine the myriad ways children and youth participate in the activities throughout their lives, focused on decision-making and much more. However, I think its essential to consider the following.

Rung Six: On the sixth rung, young people are fully equal with adults while they’re involved in a given activity. This is a 50/50 split of authority, obligation, and commitment. One of the realities of this is that there isn’t recognition for the specific developmental needs or representation opportunities for children and youth. A challenge is that without receiving that acknowledgment of their needs, young people may loose interest and become disengaged quickly. However, this same approach allows young people to experience full power and authority in relationship to adults. This rung can also foster the formation of basic youth/adult partnerships.

Rung Seven: On the seventh rung, which is still youth-driven, adults are not situated in positions of authority. Instead, they are there to support young people in passive or very behind-the-scenes roles. This gives young people the platform to take action in situations where adults are apathetic or young people are not seen with regard for their contributions, only for their deficits. In this way, self-led activities by young people mostly operate in a vacuum where the impact of their actions on the larger community isn’t recognized by the community. Activities driven by young people may not be seen with the validity of co-led activities either. Developing complete ownership of their actions can allow young people to drive their developmental, cultural, social, and educational experiences with a lot of effectiveness, and they can experience the potential of their direct actions upon themselves, their peers, and their larger communities.


Rung Eight: When young people are completely equitable with adults, the activity they’re involved in occupies the eighth rung of the ladder. Equity allows for this to be a 40/60 split, or 20/80 split when it’s deemed appropriate by young people and adults. Everyone involved- young people and adults- are recognized for their impact in the activity, and each has ownership of the outcomes. Youth/adult equity requires conscious commitment by all participants to overcoming the barriers involved. It positions adults and young people in healthy, whole relationships with each other while moving forward in action. This can ultimately lead to creating structures to support differences by establishing safe, supportive environments for equitable involvement. In turn, this may lead to recreating the climate and culture of communities, and lead to the greatest efficacy of young peoples’ participation. 
I have long said this is a geeky debate, and if you’ve read that far you know what I’m saying. There are many other nuances we can explore too, and if you’d like to hear more let me know. I believe its essential to understand where we’re at and where we can really go with youth participation. Hart laid an essential foundation we can operate from; its our responsibility to interpret and re-interpret the foundation at every turn. This is my re-interpretation for today.

Learn more about Hart’s Ladder and more from these links:

CommonAction is available to train, speak, and share about this topic and many others. Contact me to talk about the possibilities by emailing adam@commonaction.org or calling (360)489-9680.


Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!

Student Engagement in School Protests

“Student engagement” isn’t all time-on-task and observable behaviors that are favorable to teacher perceptions on student performance. Instead, student engagement happens anytime students have a sustained connection to learning.

Many educators would like student engagement to reflect the values and objectives of adults in schools. They want students to singularly focus on classroom learning or to show school spirit, and they’re rather satisfied when student are engaged in those ways. I call this “convenient student engagement” since adults can predict, who, how, why, what, and when students will have a connection in schools.

However, sometimes student engagement can be inconvenient too. Two days after school started on Monday, August 13, students in Chicago conducted a sit in at Social Justice High School in Chicago. They were protesting the firing of their principal and several staff members. This is student engagement.

Following is a student-made video.

You can learn more about the school on their official website. Here’s a detail-packed story from the Chicago-based Teachers for Social Justice website a follow-up story from a local education blog. 
Learn more about student-led education activism from SoundOut, and consider bringing us to your school or district to teach teachers, students, support staff, parents, and others about student engagement and much more. 

CommonAction is available to train, speak, and share about this topic and many others. Contact me to talk about the possibilities by emailing adam@commonaction.org or calling (360)489-9680.


Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!

10 Ways To Promote Youth Engagement

Here’s 10 things you can do to promote youth engagement right now. These don’t require you to graduate high school, get a college degree, or change the whole entire world right now. Instead they are things you can do right now! 

  1. Learn about Youth Engagement. Did you know that Youth Engagement – or Youth Engagement – is more than classes voting or school-wide meetings? Learn about Youth Engagement on The Freechild Project website, through Wikipedia, or through a number of books.
  2. Brainstorm what your organization and community can do to change. The power of your imagination is an incredible tool to use! Brainstorm different ways your organization or school could be more engaging, and make a list or mind map.
  3. Talk to other youth about Youth Engagement. Ask your friends if they know about Youth Engagement. Share your ideas about which changes your community can make, and ask if they have any ideas themselves. Challenge them to ask you hard questions, and see if you can answer them, or tell them you’ll get back to them after your learn more.
  4. Find an adult ally. Create a real youth/adult partnership with an adult to help your efforts. Engaging an adult ally can make planning more effective and connections with other adults easier.
  5. Create a Youth Engagement plan for your organization or community. Maybe your school or the neighborhood nonprofit needs more Youth Engagement. Work with your friends to make a plan for who, what, when, where and how Youth Engagement can be used.
  6. Host a Youth Engagement workshop. Invite other youth and adults in your community to learn about Youth Engagement by facilitating a hands-on workshop. Research Youth Engagement learning activities and use them to help participants learn by experiencing democracy in education. Bring The Freechild Project to your community to train youth and adults.
  7. Present your plan to community decision-makers. Who makes decisions about how adults should treat youth in your community or in schools? Teachers, youth workers, government workers, politicians, and school board members can all effect Youth Engagement. Share your plan to them one-on-one or make a presentation to local organizations, committees, and others.
  8. Present your plan to community decision-makers. Who chooses which nonprofit organizations get government funding or philanthropic donations? Present your plan to them, as well as neighborhood association presidents, local businesspeople and youth organization leaders.
  9. Organize! If your efforts to work with the community aren’t working, organize. Find other people who care about Youth Engagement by sharing the idea every chance you get, and ask them to join you in promoting the concept in your community. Then determine a goal and take action to put Youth Engagement into action for everyone!
  10. Find allies online. Having a hard time finding other youth and adults who care? Look on The Freechild Project’s Facebook page or start your own group. People you can partner with are everywhere, and sometimes it’s just a matter of asking!

Good luck – and remember to share your story with me!

CommonAction staff are available to train on Youth Engagement and much more. Learn what we can do for you by and call Adam at (360)489-9680.

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"Youth Voice" Isn’t Enough to Stop Youth Disengagement

Youth voice is not enough. Adults working to build communities with young people have learned that it is important to engage youth as self-advocates and peer teachers, community culture monitors, and youth organization cheerleaders. As youth organizations become more savvy, more youth are being effectively taught to challenge themselves, working with their peers to create safe and supportive environments for all people.

However, after more than 15 years of national interest in youth voice, many communities are still struggling to effectively address the problem of youth disengagement. We have to consider the reality of youth disengagement as a form of youth voice and the role of youth/adult partnerships in challenging youth disengagement. But we also have to acknowledge that youth voice is not enough.

Most people, young and old, value action. From our hunter/gatherer roots to present, there is often nothing more important to us than getting things done. Somewhere along the way, though, society decided that the loudest or most eloquent person in the group should be given a place to talk separate from everyone else. From Socrates to Abraham Lincoln, we have created pedestals and mantles on which we place these individuals, and we call that place “leadership.” Many youth organizations perpetuate that idea.

The challenge with many organizations’ conceptions of youth voice is that it is automatically associated with this traditional youth leadership model: Young leaders are nurtured to become adult leaders, and in many ways we carry forward the notion that youth leadership is only for certain youth.

Occasionally, well-meaning adults will try to engage nontraditional youth leaders in traditional youth leadership activities. When those experiences do not work out, adults feel justified shrugging their shoulders and simply give up on nontraditional youth leaders. However, when this reality is coupled with our hunter/gatherer roots, we can see why youth voice is not enough: Adults working with nontraditional youth leaders in “failed” youth leadership opportunities are generally taught to sit passively and wait for their turn to speak up. Despite that, the nontraditional youth leaders take action, whether it works for adults or not. This is when youth voice becomes inconvenient.

Effective social change requires direct action. It is important that everyone working for social change sees youth as a piece of that action but not the whole pie. My experience working with communities across the country and research on youth voice has shown me that there is a five-part process for meaningfully involving all partners. Following is an explanation of how my cycle of engagement can be used to engage nontraditional youth leaders.

Part 1: Listen to all youth. Families, counselors, and other adults have a direct stake in the well-being of our communities. However, the most important partner is often the least engaged: connecting all youth as partners and hearing their voices, at par with other partners including traditional youth leaders, is essential. Adults must hear youth experiences with injustice; their ideas about social change; their wisdom about creating safe and supportive communities; and their beliefs about learning, teaching, and leadership in general. These experiences and ideas and their wisdom are essential to effectively engaging not only youth, but also all other partners. Brazilian educator Paulo Freire wrote that educators must learn to “speak by listening;” social change opens the door for adults to demonstrate to nontraditional and traditional youth leaders that they are our partners.

Part 2: Validate perspectives. The historical structures of communities require adults to give permission to youth. In the old “youth empowerment” concept this meant always saying yes. Today things are different. We know that validation does not always mean saying “yes.” Instead, it is important to sometimes say “no” or “maybe,” and always to ask more questions. Inquiry is acknowledgment, and it builds relationships and allows adults to connect with young people across the board.

Part 3: Authorize change. Sometimes the straightest path to creating change is the one that looks wiggly. To authorize youth is to give them permission to tell their own stories through positions and education. They need the education and the positions that will allow them to effectively change the world.

Part 4: Take action. Young people are not the only partners who require action. With demanding modern schedules adults want to hear more than just words too—they want to do something. However, one of the points of this cycle is that action does not happen in a vacuum; instead, it has to have context. The other parts of this cycle provide that framing. Don’t take action without the other parts.

Part 5: Reflect on learning. Reflection allows all partners, including young people, to look back on what they have done, make meaning from it, and apply what they have learned to the next rotation of the cycle. An easy framework for reflection is

  • What?
  • So what?
  • Now what: What happened?
  • So what was the point of that?
  • Now what do we do with what we have learned?

Keep in mind that these different parts are a cycle though, so as they come around to completion, we use our reflections on learning to re-inform the process of listening to partners.

Social change requires more than youth voice: it needs action. The Cycle of Engagement is one tool in the Freechild Project Youth Voice Toolkit that can engage young people and adults as partners in creating a whole new world. Let’s use it together.



CommonAction is available to train, coach, speak, and write about this topic across the US and Canada. Contact Adam to learn about the possibilities by emailing adam@commonaction.org or calling (360) 489-9680.

Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!