Listening to Youth Without Responding

Question: What is the best way to engage young people who have been consulted many times but never actually listened to? And how can you do so within a tight budget!

The challenge you mention is increasingly common Kelly. Well-meaning, but poorly informed, adults are listening to youth voice without the knowledge or ability to take according action.
In my experience, we never know exactly what another person knows when they listen to us. Their immediate impressions might not be reflected in their immediate actions. Society teaches youth that they should see immediate outcomes for their actions, and because of that they may be dissatisfied with the outcomes of their consultation. 

By the same token, adults may not know what to do with youth voice. Told they’re obligated to listen to youth, they make space for youth to talk. However, they may not know how to incorporate what youth say into their activities, policies, programs, or outcomes. Adults shouldn’t be expected to know what to do with youth voice simply because they’re adults, and youth shouldn’t expect them to. 

I think the first issue is preparing youth to be listened to. Young people need to understand that just because they speak, adults are not obligated to listen, and just because they’re listened to, adults aren’t obligated to do anything with what they hear.  

The second issue I see is about preparing the adults who are going to be listening to youth. The challenge here is to simply hear what youth are saying, instead of interpreting what youth have said into adult language, concepts, or jargon. 

In my interpretation, the third issue is the problem you’ve said, how to engage youth who’ve been consulted who made be jaded because the outcomes they anticipated didn’t happen.
All this is to say that I think the best way to engage youth who’ve been consulted but haven’t seen the outcomes from their contributions is education. Youth should be taught how consultation works and what they can realistically expect for their time. Adults should be taught how to listen to youth, and what to do with what youth have said. I routinely train youth and adults this information /together/, and that may be the secret: Ensure that youth and adults are playing from the same assumptions with the same tools expecting the same outcomes. That level of transparency can lead to the most satisfaction for everyone involved, youth and adults.

I would also suggest this person check out The Freechild Project Youth Engagement Workshop Guide for concrete, practical, FREE workshop suggestions to meet the solution I wrote about! It’s online at

Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to Learn more at!

Published by Adam

For almost two decades, Adam F. C. Fletcher has led international outreach focused on engaging people successfully. Working with thousands of youth-serving nonprofits, K-12 schools, government agencies, international NGOs and other organizations around the world, his work spans the fields of education, public health, economic development and social services, and includes professional development, public speaking, publishing, social media and more. He founded the Freechild Institute for Youth Engagement, SoundOut and CommonAction, as well as writing more than 50 publications and 500 articles. He has also established 150-plus community empowerment projects.

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