for Young People
Standard programs for
youth development and education programs first
became popular in the early 1900s. These models were
diverse, but essentially looked at children
and youth as having one job in any class or program,
that of recipient. This view echoed the view our
larger society had of young people, and it continues
The problem with this
view is that children and youth are inherently seen
as lesser-than. It treats young people as
second-class citizens whose opinions, ideas,
actions, and wisdom does not matter.
In The Freechild
Project’s ongoing work focused on young people
several new roles keep appearing as popular methods
for deeply engaging young people throughout society. The following
activities address issues that affect children
and youth as well as issues that affect our larger
communities. They show that young people can and do
learn from every activity they participate in.
Cycle of Youth Engagement
illustrates, the most important part of any role any
person can have with the world around them is that
of learner. The following exploration of the
roles of young people throughout society is meant to
help us learn, and to meet the challenge John Dewey
issued when he wrote, "We
do not learn from doing – we learn from thinking
Traditional Models of Youth
Whether or not they
acknowledge it, many organizations have been
engaging Youth Voice for a long time. The following
activities are examples of traditional roles for
Receptacles. Treats the experiences, ideas,
and knowledge of young people as unimportant or
meaningless by allowing adults to “dump” their
knowledge on youth without their input.
Recipients. The notion that children and
youth are incapable of making or taking
informed, practical, and powerful choices and
action that affects themselves and others.
Informants. Children and youth know things
about children and youth, and that much cannot
be disputed. Focus groups, advisory boards,
interviews… all information sources, all for
Promoters. “Who better to sell stuff to
youth than youth themselves?” That quickly
explains why mall stores can pay so little to
workers – they want youth to work there, and
presumably youth can live on less because of
their reliance on their parents.
New Roles for Young
With the development
of new technology, new learning experiences, and
different avenues for participation throughout our
communities, young people have assumed, been
assigned, and have co-created new roles for Youth
Facilitators. Knowledge comes from study,
experience, and reflection. Engaging young
people as teachers helps reinforce their
commitment to learning and the subject they are
teaching; it also engages both young and older
learners in exciting ways.
Researchers. Identifying issues, surveying
interests, analyzing findings, and developing
projects in response are all powerful avenues
for Youth Voice.
Planners – Planning includes program design,
event planning, curriculum development, and
hiring staff. Youth planning activities can lend
validity, creativity, and applicability to
abstract concepts and broad outcomes.
Organizers – Community organizing happens
when leaders bring together everyone in a
community in a role that fosters social change.
Youth community organizers focus on issues that
affect themselves and their communities; they
rally their peers, families, and community
members for action.
Decision-Makers. Making rules in classrooms
is not the only way to engage young people in
decision-making. Committees, board membership,
and other forms of representation and leadership
reinforce the significance of Youth Voice
Advocates – When young people stand for
their beliefs and understand the impact of their
voices, they can represent their families and
communities with pride, courage, and ability.
Evaluators. Assessing and evaluating the
effects of programs, classes, activities, and
projects can promote Youth Voice in powerful
ways. Young people can learn that their opinions
are important, and their experiences are valid
indicators of success.
Specialists – Envisioning roles for youth to
teach youth is relatively easy; seeing new roles
for youth to teach adults is more challenging.
Youth specialists bring expert knowledge about
particular subjects to programs and
organizations, enriching everyone’s ability to
be more effective.
More Roles for Young People
Each of the following
roles can be a successful way to engage young
people. Every position is different, offering a
variety of perspectives and actions for youth to
share their perspectives and take action.
Creating Engaging Lifestyles
Youth Voice is a
logical starting point for any organization that
wants to serve its constituency more effectively. It
is also a powerful avenue for actually changing the
lives of young people. By taking a constructivist
approach to Youth Voice, communities can truly
sustain young peoples’ engagement throughout
society. That means acknowledging what young people
already know, expanding their exposure to, knowledge
of, and opportunities to generate new thinking. All
of the models above can help educators weave an
intricate blanket of engagement that captures people
for all their lives.
2011. Adam Fletcher owns the copyright
for this material on behalf of The Freechild
Project. You are welcome to print out
this material for educational purposes
only - you cannot make any financial
gain from them without the explicit
permission of the author. You may not
photocopy any part of this material
without explicit permission of the
author. For more
information write info [at] freechild.org