I Believe in Youth

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I Believe in Youth

I am a firm believer in the power of youth. Since I facilitated my first youth workshop in 1997, I have been an advocate for youth empowerment, routinely showing young people, youth workers, educators, administrators, politicians and parents the power, purpose and possibilities of youth.

Young people bring some particularly important powers to the table. They include:

  • Purpose—Because of their abilities developed in their lives, youth have a sense of purpose in their learning and living. Through youth empowerment activities, we can help them focus and purposeful learners by partnering with adults. When youth go a step further and take action to change the world, they become even more purposeful! Building their knowledge, skills and abilities and applying them through social change encourages youth to stay driven and inspired to lead throughout society.
  • Passion—Youth might not come into a life with the skills or abilities they need to be leaders, and sometimes they don’t have the interest, either. However, after becoming empowered and applying their learning through action, youth develop passion and motivation and the drive needed to be leaders. This passion can take them far in school, at home and throughout their lives!
  • Possibilities—The possibilities of youth are limitless. Whether they’re doing personal work, advancing to powerful action, or taking it to the next level, there are many ways that youth can improve our world. Some youth become powerful advocates for social change who lobby legislatures, present at conferences and represent youth voice. Others become highly proficient in changing the world, and still others teach their peers with voraciousness and vigor. There are so many possibilities!
  • Practicality—The practical, actual difference youth make everyday create powerful change in their own lives, throughout their communities, and around the world. Young people who work to change the world can take powerful career steps because of the fires that were sparked when they were youth. The practical effects of young people taking action include saving money, increasing the efficiency of youth programs and schools, and improving the climate and outcomes of communities. Such practicality can make youth essential for social change around the world.

These are just a few of the reasons why I believe in youth! There are so many others that matter too, like creativity, digital powers, and more.

Why do YOU believe in youth?!?

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Adam F.C. Fletcher is available to consult, speak, and write.

It All Begins With Youth Voice

It all begins with youth voice.

Whether heard or repressed, empowered or silenced, young people of all ages have valid ideas, knowledge, opinions and actions about every aspect of their lives, all the time. When youth voice is not engaged at home, young people may lash out or retract inwards.

It is vital to understand that what many people view as “negative” youth behaviors are actually the consequences of challenging life experiences.

Youth voice is obvious in all five domains of self-regulation, including the cognitive, social, biological, emotional and prosocial. The literal voices of youth can become less prevalent while unexpected behavior becomes more effective at portraying their inner landscapes: self-harm, skipping school, eating disorders, substance abuse, disobeying parents, violence, stealing, vandalism, and other ways of expressing youth voice can take precedent over good performance in schools, cooperation with siblings or an overall positive affect in their lives.

These actions are unfortunately and frequently misinterpreted by adults.

While most parents, guardians and extended family members intend to do no harm to our children and those entrusted to us, we sometimes fail our best intentions. Incapable of creating safe, stable, supportive and permanent environments for youth to succeed, young people will strive to get their needs met even when it is not apparent to adults that is what they’re doing.

This can result in youth homelessness; truancy and breaking curfews; substance abuse, and; other ways of youth expressing themselves that adults frequently don’t want to hear and don’t know how to listen to. When we do listen, we often don’t know what to do.

Ignoring and silencing youth voice can have harsher results, too, including juvenile incarceration, substance addiction, physical and mental harm, and severe mental health implications.

Engaging youth voice intentionally can begin to rectify this imbalance.

Parents, social workers, educators, mental health counselors and others need to learn what youth voice really is; how youth voice is shared throughout the lives of young people today; what works and what doesn’t work; and more.

All of this begins to detail a clear pathway, and it begins with youth voice.

 


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Interpreting Youth Voice

Some adults suggest its “simple” to listen to youth. They merely open their ears, turn on their hearts and watch their body language as young people speak. These same adults often take liberty in interpreting youth, telling other adults and even young people themselves what youth voice means, what it does and why it matters.

This is a double standard though. It’s never the job of adults to tell youth how to speak, what they mean, why to share and when is appropriate and when its inappropriate. Instead, I think its our job to make space for youth to speak in the most unbridled, uninhibited ways they want in order to make their feelings, thoughts, ideas, knowledge and wisdom known.

Our society is in such a desperate state that we can’t wait for adults to make sense of others’ words anymore. We have to hear young people speak with reckless abandon now, and instead of whittling down meanings, figuring out perspectives and deciding others emotions and knowledge, we should hear all young people everywhere as earnestly, honestly and authentically as possible.

Basically, I want every teacher, youth worker, parent, nonprofit executive, social worker, school leader and anyone who pretends, portends or otherwise interacts with youth to push themselves to stop trying to make sense of youth voice. Instead, simply let youth voice be and learn to hear what’s being said.

  • Listen to emotions, even when they make you uncomfortable.
  • Hear knowledge, even when it conflicts or contradicts what you think you know.
  • Watch your own responses, even (especially) when you think you’re right.
  • Trust youth. Every. Single. Time.
  • Believe in youth voice, especially when its different from your own.

When we adults learn to control ourselves and our negative behavior towards youth voice, we can make genuine progress in transforming the roles of young people throughout society. When those change, the world changes. We should aim for nothing less.

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