33 Steps to Youth Voice

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

  1. BE—Go to where youth are, and stop insisting they come to where you’re at.
  2. TEACH—Teach youth about your community in the broadest ways, including culture, geography, economics, history, and more.
  3. BUILD—Help youth understand different ways of seeing community issues.
  4. TRAIN—Train adult providers about the difference between Youth as Recipients and Youth as Partners, and why that’s an important distinction.
  5. 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.
  6. LISTEN—Develop opportunities for youth to share their unfettered concerns about their communities with adults.
  7. POSITION—Create formal positions for youth to occupy throughout your community.
  8. CREATE—Create programs with youth as partners in identifying, planning, facilitating, evaluating, and critiquing throughout.
  9. PARTNER—Co-design community engagement plans with every youth in your program.
  10. MENTOR—Assign all youth a youth mentor to introduce them to the culture and traditions of your community; mutual mentoring matters.
  11. PLAN—Help youth plan, advocate, and enact yearlong program calendars for organizations that affect them and others.
  12. DESIGN—Engage youth in designing and redesigning programs that serve them and their communities.
  13. STEP ASIDE—Encourage nontraditional youth leaders to co-facilitate regular programs with adults.
  14. SPEND—Invest fully in youth programming and allow youth to become active partners in organizational budgeting.
  15. HIRE—Give youth positions to become regular, paid youth program assistants and leaders.
  16. FACILITATE—Partner together youth to form facilitation teams that lead programs.
  17. SEE—Acknowledge youth teaching younger youth in lower age groups with program credit and other acknowledgment.
  18. SUBSTANTIATE—Co-create professional development with youth for adult staff about issues that matter to them.
  19. EVALUATE—Assign youth to create meaningful program evaluations of themselves.
  20. SYSTEMITIZE—Partner with youth to create evaluations of programs, curriculum, facilitation styles, organizations, and communities.
  21. EMPOWER—Train youth how to evaluate adult facilitator performance.
  22. LEAD—Create opportunities for youth to lead community events.
  23. GUIDE—Create positions for youth to participate in nonprofit boards, neighborhood communities, and other systemic activities.
  24. AUTHORIZE—Give youth on nonprofit boards full-voting positions and equal numbers of positions with adults.
  25. EQUATE—Create enough positions for youth to be equally represented in every neighborhood committee and meeting.
  26. MEET—Facilitate all neighborhood activities in ways that are engaging for all participants, including youth.
  27. RULE—Help youth create and enforce activity policies throughout the community.
  28. DECIDE—Partner with youth in nonprofit personnel decisions.
  29. ORGANIZE—Work with youth to organize public campaigns for neighborhood improvement.
  30. INTEGRATE—Create opportunities for youth to join all existing neighborhood committees as equal members.
  31. DETERMINE—Present youth data and information so they understand why and how neighborhoods can and should change.
  32. EQUIP—Position youth to educate adults throughout your community, including parents, leaders, policymakers and others, about challenges that matter to them.
  33. 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.

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

The Freechild Project Youth Action Guide

The Freechild Project Youth Action Guide is CommonAction’s latest publication. A 50-page publication created for our training promoting youth changing the world, this guide is FREE online right now! It’s packed with quick, easy reading that can help young people or adults think about how to find what needs to change, create programs to make that change happen, and promote Youth Action throughout our communities.
You can read the book free here.

You Might Also Be Interested In…

Contact us for any additional information by calling (360)489-9680 or emailing info@commonaction.org.

Olympia—Partners Needed for a Youth Event

Talking with a number of young people in Olympia in informal settings, I recently discovered there is a desire for a youth leadership training for them. However, without money to attend, these “nontraditionally engaged” youth don’t feel like they can do it. So I’m going to pull together a one-day youth action training here in Olympia focused on The Freechild Project Youth Action Kit.

Right now I’m calling for volunteers and partner orgs for this one day event at the end of June.
WHY
Provide nontraditional youth leaders the opportunity to build their skills and knowledge on how to change the world.
WHAT/WHEN 
In late June 2013, I am going to facilitate a one-day, nine-hour training for youth and adults focused on youth leadership in changing the world. This is a skill-building, knowledge-sharing event that will increase participants’ abilities to successfully take action for social change. The main target group is local youth of all stripes from the Thurston County area. 
This will be a hands-on, interactive, fun event that focuses on actual action to change the world. I do not talk down to youth, and I’m not a hype-man; instead, I facilitate practical, meaningful action by young people working with adults as partners. The goal of the training is to promote youth engagement in practical, powerful, and positive social change.
WHO
  • Up to 100 participants will be accepted to come individually or in groups.
  • There is no cost to participate, and there are NO requirements beyond pre-registration. 
  • Certificates can be given that designate the number of hours attended and topics covered.
  • Youth ages 12 to 19 will be invited directly.
  • Local youth-serving programs and organizations will be invited.
  • Adult allies of all kinds, including teachers, parents, youth workers, counselors, business people, elected officials, government workers, and others will be invited to attend.
WHERE 
TBD. Suggestions are welcome.
YOUR ROLE 
Freechild needs co-sponsors for this event. I am facilitating it for free and I’m 
not collecting any fees. I invite YOU and your organization to provide any of the following:
  • Participants
  • Logistical support
  • Location 
  • Event planning
  • Food
  • Promotion
  • Flip chart paper
  • Markers
  • Photocopies & printing
  • Give-aways
  • ?????
TOPICS
The topics for this training are still being determined, but will definitely cover how to organize Youth Action as I’ve written in The Freechild Project Youth Action Kit. They may also cover topics from The Freechild Project Youth Engagement Workshop Guide, which is focused on youth taking action to change the world.
QUESTIONS
  • What do I get for partnering? If you choose to partner with me for this event, I will include your logo on materials and acknowledge your org or business during the event.
  • How often will this happen? Its a one-time training.
  • How much does it cost? Its free.
  • Is there a program supporting it? This event is not program-centered.
  • What is it going to cover? This is a general skill-building and knowledge-sharing training event, and not a train-the-trainer event.
  • What are the outcomes? It may inspire participants to go out and take action in the community, and they’ll received materials to support that. It may inspire participants to change their own lives. It might just be fun for a day.
  • Are there other programs doing this? WASC, based in Oly, offers a statewide student leadership training statewide program doesn’t reach the generally disengaged youth population of the area. Voices of Youth is program-driven youth voice with a specific agenda focused on school health.
  • Why do you think you can do this? I have trained thousands of youth in hundreds of topics for more than a decade, and have developed youth leadership development programs in 50 communities nationwide. Learn more about me at my website.
  • Is there any real need for this beyond a few youths’ opinions? I love Oly’s youth programs, and have supported each of them by donating my time and money and volunteering for more. Currently, I know of no programs offered by CYS, GRuB, Together, Stonewall Youth, or the even among the city’s state agenciesthat  provide leadership development for their participants focused on general social change. Instead, they’re all topic-specific, if at all. So yes, there’s a real need, and generally speaking, local nonprofits don’t have the resources or staff to facilitate this kind of training. I’ve also done this 6 times before in Oly.
  • Why do you REALLY want to do this? Basically, I do all this work nationally and want to contribute back to the city I live in by volunteering my time, knowledge, and ability.
  • How can I get involved? Give me a call at (360) 489-9680 or email adam@freechild.org.
  • I’m not from Oly—can I still come? YES! Get in touch. 
  • How can I get this in my city? Contact me.
  • How can I get more info? Sign up for the CommonAction newsletter, the Freechild facebook page, or send me an email.
Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!

The House Youth Voice Built

A lot of organizations don’t know where to begin with Youth Voice. They complain that young people don’t attend their activities, or that youth who do show up don’t have a voice. Building Youth Voice requires a deliberate strategy for action and transformation.

Eight Building Blocks For Youth Voice
The following can be a checklist. If you want to engage Youth Voice in your youth-serving program or organization, ask yourself if you have the following building blocks.

The Foundation: A champion. 

Do you have an individual in your organization who is leading youth engagement efforts? This person needs to be a champion who is knowledgeable, committed, and shares the experiences of youth you’re targeting. This is the most important step.

The Concrete: Commitment. 
Does your organization’s Board of Directors value youth engagement beyond gestures or language by having 1/3 to 2/3rds of the seats on the Board filled by people under 30?
The Walls: Connectedness. 
Are 50% of your Board members from the local neighborhood you’re serving? If you’re serving an entire city or county, do you recruit members reflecting the racial and socio-economic diversity of your area?

The Siding: Attachment. 
Have you hired local youth or young adults into relevant positions within your organization? They must have local high school experiences and direct interaction with young people, and relevant training.

The Front Door: Relevance. 
Does your organization have great programs relevant to youth in your area? They need a variety of educational, social, recreational, and other opportunities to be who they are, and to feel seen by your organization.

The Interior Design: Fun.
Do staff provide purely fun and social activities with no hidden agenda of selling them other programs or your organization’s goals? Do they fuse fun into the regular operating activities of the program?

The Yard: Broadening. 
Do your youth programs connect young people beyond just your programs for them? Do they have opportunities to learn or play with adults, participate in community conversations, or do substantive activities with diverse community members?

The Sidewalk: Building. 
No matter what your goals are, does your program seek to acknowledge the skills and knowledge young people already have and build upon them?

This is what has worked for the organizations CommonAction has worked with as we’ve founded more than 100 Youth Voice projects and programs in communities around the world.

What doesn’t work is using the same thinking that created the problem of youth disengagement to try to engage Youth Voice in your program or organization. Everything you’re doing is surely a necessary part of positive youth development, but just continuing on that pathway isn’t enough. Youth programs and youth-serving organizations cannot just be about any one issue anymore, and everyone has to focus on youth engagement. Engaging Youth Voice is a prime avenue to youth engagement. However, without these building blocks in place, young people will not be with you.

Finally, lead by example. Young people are watching everything you do right now, no matter who you are or what you do within your organization, community, or throughout your life. If you’re an aloof executive director who doesn’t make time to connect with youth in your organization’s programs, youth in your program will be that way too. If you’re a hyper-busy program worker with too much on their plate and little support, young people in your program will know that. So check yourself and lead by example.

Every program and organization can successfully engage Youth Voice, and its our ethical responsibility to do that. What are you gonna do today?!?

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

10 Steps To Youth Integration

Challenging youth segregation can be tricky.


Anyone who advocates for youth involvement, youth engagement, youth voice, youth empowerment, or youth rights is ultimately calling for the same this: the integration of young people in our society. As it stands, young people are routinely segregated from a lot of places. This includes the institutions that serve them directly, such as schools, nonprofits, governments, and faith-based communities. It also includes their homes, as well as places where they should be treated without bias but aren’t, including businesses. Ultimately, youth integration has to happen in all relationships between young people and adults.

This work has been underway for more than two decades, and needs to unite now. It starts with re-envisioning the roles of young people throughout society. In the last decade, I’ve worked in more than 200 communities across the US to help them re-envision their work with young people. Its been successful in some ways, challenging in others.

Through my efforts with The Freechild Project, along with similar programs across the country, a generation of young people and their adult allies have come to believe that our society can do more than simply do things to young people. Instead, we can co-create the world together. This notion reflects the wisdom, “Nothing about me without me is for me.”
Studying my own work and the vast library of literature I’ve collected focusing on this approach, I’ve devised some key points for integrating youth throughout society.
10 Steps to Youth Integration
  1. Think Sustainable—Identify practical ways to ensure youth keep being integrated after an initial planning period. Begin by sitting down with a group of adults young people together and talk about the world today, their specific lives, and what they think needs to change. From the beginning, infuse youth in facilitation, evaluation, research, decision-making, and advocacy right into the culture of your group. If you must involve children and youth in a one-shot activity, let them know of real opportunities for them to be integrated with adults in their lives outside your group.
  2. Clear Purpose—Name a clear purpose for integrating young people in your community. Come up with a mission statement. Let youth and adults, organization leaders, parents, community members, and local schools know what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. Clarity of purpose is often missing from young people’s lives, as school is done to them, family is done to them, and stores are done to them. Anywhere in society looking to actually integrate young people needs to let young people know the world be done with them, and they should know why that’s important.
  3. Integrate The Non-Traditionally Engaged—Create space and help children and youth who haven’t been especially engaged in your community to become integrated. Actively integrating both traditionally involved young people and non-traditionally involved young people can radically transform your community in all sorts of ways. If you don’t know how to do this, get trained; if you need a reason, read this.
  4. Real Connections—When young people see themselves in your program, real connections are happening. When real connections happen, children and youth become engaged. While they may have obvious expertise or interests in a specific topic, its important for your group to help young people discover what they know right now, and to see what they know inside what you’re doing.
  5. Equity, Not Equality—Develop equitable roles between young people and adults.  This means that groups don’t pretend all things between children, youth, and adults are 50/50 split equally, because in our adult-centered society that is simply never true. Equity allows young people and adults to enter into responsible relationships that acknowledge what each other knows and doesn’t know, and to work from that place instead of assuming everyone has equal ability and capacity. We’re all different; let’s not pretend otherwise.
  6. Grow Their Capacity—Grow the existing capacity of children and youth to become involved in planning. Both young people and adults can learn from training about work styles, assumptions, skills, and more. 
  7. Make A Clear Plan—Having a specific pathway for young people to see how their integration will change their community. Are they contributing to an existing program? Opening a brand-new course of action and learning? Working with the same adults in new ways, or partnering with new adults? Its important to remember that creating a youth integration plan is not the culmination of work, but the starting point of a group’s efforts to create a more democratic society. A clear plan should include: 1) Practical next steps; 2) Roles and responsibilities for youth and adults; 3) an integration structure for your community; 4) group member evaluation opportunities. Setting priorities, using timelines with dates, and developing clear benchmarks for measuring success in each area can also enhance your community.
  8. Get SystemicEncourage youth integration beyond your group. Young people can be engaged in researching their community, school, nonprofit program, or anything through PAR. They can facilitate, teach, and mentor peers, younger people, and adult. They can evaluate themselves, their organizations and communities, workplaces and businesses, and other places. They can participate in organizational, family, community, or other decision-making. They can advocate for what they care about. Ultimately, they can be engaged throughout society in every way you can imagine.
  9. Connect The DotsEstablish deep youth/adult partnerships wherever possible. Collaborations that reinforce learning will deepen any effort to integrate youth. The partnerships established in this process can deepen efforts through the future, and mutually support youth and adults throughout your community.
  10. Eyes Wide OpenOpen the doors to critical examination. Use critical lenses to examine your assumptions and effects in your group. Identifying strengths and weaknesses allow groups and communities to improve the overall integration of youth, especially through your particular effort. Make space by giving young people permission and skills they need to be partners in mutual accountability with adults. In your group, set clear benchmarks and agree on celebrations when they’re met and consequences that young people can see for when those benchmarks are not met.

Aside from ethical considerations for youth integration, there is a practical basis to integrate youth throughout society. A variety of recent research demonstrates that there may be no parallel to making schools, youth programs, government agencies, and even families more effective. The most intuitive outcome is true: Integrating young people throughout society changes young people who experience integration. 


Less obvious are the effects that youth integration has on adults throughout our communities. When they’re actively infused throughout the broader community, young people can actually affect the broad community beyond your group in a variety of ways over the short and long term. The effects include lifelong civic engagement, and developing strong and sustained connections to the educational, economic, and cultural values of their neighborhoods and cities. Youth integration can dream no higher goals. (See here, here, and here for some studies.)


More importantly though, this pathway shows that youth integration is feasible. What are you doing to get it going in your community?
 

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

Ending Youth Voice

There aren’t too many deliberate attempts out there to stifle youth voice. But without knowing it, many adults unconsciously undermine their own attempts to promote the unique perspectives of young people on their own lives.

A while back I wrote an advisement for all youth voice practitioners designed to raise our consciousness about the things we unconsciously do that undermine youth voice, ultimately ending it. Find the original article at http://freechild.org/YouthVoice/end.htm

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

Freechild Project Youth-Driven Programming Guide

This guide is an introduction to youth-driven programming for nonprofits, government agencies, and other youth-serving organizations. The booklet gives a definition and compares approaches, and then provides planning tools, evaluations and assessments, and more. It includes the Ladder of Youth Voice, rubrics for assessing youth-driven programming, and links to examples and resources that readers can explore on their own.

ORDER YOUR COPY NOW.

Elsewhere Online

Making Adultism Okay

In many settings today, there is an increasing amount of attention towards racial, gender, and other forms of discrimination. However, little is made of a very real form of discrimination that is undermining a lot of well-meaning educators’ work with students today: adultism.

In my new book, Ending Discrimination Against Young People, I define adultism in three ways:

  1. Bias towards adults;
  2. Discrimination against children and youth;
  3. The addiction to adults expressed throughout our culture, society, and personal ways of being.

Adultism occurs throughout society. Despite our best intentions, many adults and young people try to make discrimination against children and youth okay in all kinds of ways. Following are some of them.


15 Ways Adults Try to Make Adultism Okay
  1. Denying discrimination against children and youth. Adults might say: “This is a free country, and kids can do whatever they want if they put their minds to it,” or “Hey, wait a second, that’s not what I meant… I mean… you took my words out of context, don’t make it try to sound like I’m adultist!” 
  2. Even when they’re aware, some adults still don’t get it.
  3. Telling young people they are too sensitive. Adults might say, ”You’re too sensitive,” or, “If youth weren’t so aggressive, vocal, hostile, angry, or upset, adults would listen to youth and they wouldn’t get in trouble!” 
  4. Speaking for youth. Adults might say, “I’m a youth ally myself, so why can’t we all just ignore age, it’s not like it’s even real. It is not as if I tangibly benefit from being an adult every day or anything! Can’t we all just get along?” 
  5. Turning the tables. Adults might say, “You are just discriminating against adults, you know. You’re discriminating against me right now, you hypocrite!” 
  6. Denying reality. Adults might say, ”Whoa, that guy over there is SUCH an adultist, unlike me… I know exactly the right things to say and I’m never adultist. By which I mean overtly offensive about it. Hold on, I think I’m going to go spit on that adult. I hate him.” 
  7. Bending over backwards. Adults might say, ”You kids are so right! I agree with everything you say, because you’re right, of course 
  8. Reinforcing adultism with personal reasons. Adults might say, ”But a youth cut in front of me in line at the grocery store last night, said something stupid, mugged me, or took my hubcaps! So as far as I’m concerned, they proved all of my prejudices!” 
  9. Taking on adultism. Adults might say, ”I can’t possibly be an adultist… I’m part of the oppressed due to the fact that I’m a woman! (or gay, poor, young, transsexual, etc.)”. 
  10. Trying to be a youth. Adults might say, “Dang, dude! I listen to emo and rock out at the shows, and you know I’m down with the homies. Did you see the last edition of that graphic novel?” 
  11. Being constantly available to youth. Adults might say, ”Teach me, help me. I’m just an adult, so I need your wisdom as a youth to show me how not to be adultist. Wait, is what I said earlier adultist? How about this shirt I’m wearing? Can you come with me to this meeting, so they know I’m not adultist?” 
  12. Rationalizing adultism through faux-empathy. Adults might say, “Unlike all those other adults out there, I’m an anti-adultist.” “I do anti-adultist work and I try to educate other adults about adultism.” “Wait, did you hear me?” 
  13. Switching sides. Adults might say, ”I totally agree. Adultism is one system of oppression among many interlocking ones that specifically awards more privilege and power to all adults whether they like it or not and serves to keep the existing power structure in place. Oh… what? You want me to volunteer in a community organization, contribute money, do security for your protest march? Uh… yeah maybe next time, I’ve got to wash my hair tonight. And walk my dog, see the latest episode of my favorite show, manage my stock portfolio…” 
  14. Sympathy for youth. Adults might say,”Oh my god… that is so awful. I’m so sorry. Sorry. I can’t imagine what it must be like… I’m sorry. That’s so awful. I feel so bad for you. Sorry.” 
  15. Being a friend by force. Adults might say, “Hey, I’m not an adultist, OK? Some of my best friends are youth. See?” or “Yeah, I’ve known her since I was a kid, and she’s never said anything adultist to me!” 
  16. Hiding behind their age. Youth might say, ”What? I can’t possibly be adultist – I AM a youth. How can I be adultist against myself, huh? No, I haven’t heard of internalized adultism, and I still think youth involvement is reverse discrimination!”

My book explores how all adults are adultist. It comes down to this: Discrimination has many definitions, and one of them is the capability to discern difference between two or more things. In this way, adults constantly discriminate against young people. That’s not necessarily wrong or bad, but it is true. Adults who don’t discern the difference between them and young people generally have developmental restraints that limit their ability to discriminate. Again, discriminating against young people and being in favor of adults isn’t always bad; it simply IS. Accepting that reality is the first step to creating a more just and equitable society benefiting all people.

The items on this list are signs of when that ability to discern difference is either accidentally or intentionally blurred and erased, or hyper-exaggerated. Recognizing that adults do that is important for creating /authentic/ youth empowerment, instead of simply giving lip service to young people and saying they’re equal, but acting in other ways. Adults who do the things on the list are generally being disingenuous and inauthentic by going through the motions without any real meaning behind what they’re doing.

Identifying how you personally rationalize adultism can lead to becoming a more effective adult ally. Learn other things you can do at The Freechild Project website and contact our office for information on publications and training we offer.
You can order Ending Discrimination Against Young People from Amazon.com or ask for it at your local bookstore.
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!

Convenient or Inconvenient Youth Voice

Youth Voice is being thrown around these days as something special, unique, and never wrong. The simple fact is that while all children and youth are powerful beyond measure and important beyond words, Youth Voice is nothing that should be romanticized or pedestaled. It should be integrated, normalized, and mainstreamed, but not worshiped or seen as infallible, because that’s simply not true.

Youth Voice is any expression by any young person anywhere about anything, for any purpose. Many well-meaning adults who advocate for Youth Voice are often talking about what is convenient for us as adults.

Convenient Youth Voice happens whenever adults know who is going to speak, what is going to be said, where its going to be shared, when its going to happen, and what the outcomes are going to be. Adults might not have written the script, but what’s going to be said is no surprise to them. This can include the young person speaking to the city council on behalf of a local organization, the youth advisory council, and the youth researcher program. It can also include the traditional youth leaders in your school or program, the young actors from the local theater, or the service learning program at your community center.

Inconvenient Youth Voice is when young people express themselves in ways that aren’t predictable. They share ideas, shout out thoughts, take action, reflect harshly, or critique severely. They write, draw, graffitti, paint, play, sing, protest, research, build, deconstruct, rebuild, examine, and do things that adults don’t know, understand, approve of, or otherwise predict. Inconvenient youth voice can be young people graffitting on lockers at school, texting test answers back and forth, joining gangs, or protesting teacher firings.

The difference between these two approaches depends on location, position, and circumstance. A young person’s race, socio-economic status, gender, sexual orientation, educational attainment, or other identities frequently determines whether or not Youth Voice is heard, engaged, interacted with, approved of, or denied, ignored, or penalized.

Working thousands of young people in hundreds of communities across the US through The Freechild Project has taught me that there is much more Youth Voice happening than adults ever approve of. Inconvenient Youth Voice is all over. Its a matter of whether adults actually want to hear it.

I even wrote a book about it! In March 2013 CommonAction published The Freechild Project Youth-Driven Programming Guide, and you can order it on Amazon.com right now.

What do you think? Where does Youth Voice have a role in your life, convenient or otherwise?

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