Youth Voice Toolkit

 

Youth Voice Tip Sheet

By Adam Fletcher

 

Intro

The Freechild Project believes - and this website is meant to show - that young people are powerful contributors to social change around the world. But when was the last time you heard their voices? Honestly sat down and listened to youth and heard what a young person had to say? Here are some tips about Youth Voice today, written by youth and adults for adults. For more information and resources, visit our Resources for Adults webpage.

 

What Is Youth Voice?

Youth Voice is the perspectives, ideas, experiences, knowledge, and actions of young people. Youth voice doesnít mean talking loudly or shouting to be heard, and it is not about drowning out other people's voices, including adults. Youth voice is about considering the perspectives and ideas of young people, respecting what everyone has to say, taking risks, listening, sharing, and working together.

 

How Can I Listen to Youth Voice? 

You really want to listen to youth voice?  Then start by looking inside yourself. Before you go listening to youth voice, ask yourself these questions:

  • Who am I?

  • Where did I come from?

  • What do I stand for?

  • What do I stand against?

Then look at the young people around you. Where are they from? What do they stand for? What do they stand against? If you don't know the answers to these questions, then go ask those young people - and ask sincerely, and ask honestly. If young people know what they believe, then they will tell you. If they don't know, then you can support them by facilitating opportunities for them to discover. But don't make up your mind beforehand - that's the important part.

 

Is That All It Takes?

"Youth Voice" is not the best title. There is no such thing as one single Youth Voice. The voices of young people are infinite, like the universe, with an infinite amount of stars, each burning a different way. Young people have a lot of different identities, each representing their different communities, their cultures, and their heritage. It is the responsibility of adult allies to hear their voices, in all of their diversity. When many people say "Youth Voice", they are attempting to put all young people into the same boat. It is the responsibility of adults to acknowledge that every youth is a unique individual.

 

Who Should Listen to Youth Voice?

  • When youth voice is engaged in communities, schools, and organizations, young people grow more capable, effective, and powerful than we have ever imagined.  They enhance their academic skills with ďreal worldĒ experience, learn leadership and citizenship skills and the importance of helping and working with others. 

  • Just as important, adults grow more energized, creative, and insightful.  Their work becomes more responsive, and their hearts become more engaged.  Sharing responsibility of community building lifts the weight of working alone. 

  • In our communities, young people are viewed as problem solvers rather than problem makers.  When young people help make decisions, programs are more likely to meet their needs.  And when young people are part of the process they feel ownership, mobilize others and become powerful role models.  Most importantly, youth voice unites people to work for improved communities and schools.

What Does Youth Voice DO?

In communities, schools, small towns, and cities across the United States and around the world, Youth Voice is changing society, economies, the environment, and more. Youth Voice engages children and youth as...

  • Community planners

  • School teachers

  • Program evaluators

  • Neighborhood activists

  • Government officials

  • Nonprofit directors

  • Workshop trainers

  • News reporters

  • Action researchers

  • And much more. For more examples, click here>

The issues young people are addressing through this action are just as diverse as the actions they are taking. Find a really comprehensive list here>

 

"Youth voice is typically not something you either have or don't have in your agency, organization or community... The goal for establishing meaningful roles for youth and insuring that they have an important voice in decision-making is not to get to a state of 100% self-management, that is simply a logical extreme and one option within many different levels of involvement and effective use of youth engagement and voice."

 

- from YouthEngagementandVoice.org

 

How Can I Build Youth Voice?

 

Youth:

  • DO speak up!

  • DO invite adults to share skills, experiences and resources.

  • DO commit time and energy to do the work.

  • DO take responsibility seriously.

  • DO seek to involve other young people.

  • DONíT assume all adults will treat you like your parents treat you.

  • DONíT over commit yourself.

  • DONíT forget to ask questions.

  • DONíT forget that you ARE a young person.

Adults:

  • DO involve young people in the decision-making from the very beginning (before its too late for them to be a part of meaningful change).

  • DO include as many young people as possible.

  • DO listenÖ really listen to young people and be willing to learn from them.

  • DO provide young people with the information, training and support they need to succeed.

  • DO plan meetings where everyone feels welcome.

  • DONíT blame all young people for the actions of one young person.

  • DONíT ask youth to attend your meetings and then ignore the ideas they give to you.

  • DONíT invite youth for image reasons.

  • DONíT schedule meetings at times when youth canít participate: during school, late at night, etc.

  • DONíT use youth as a ďstamp of approvalĒ (showing them a completed project and asking them to tell you they like it).

Where Do I Begin?

  1. Assess your stereotypes, judgments, and preconceptions of others.

  2. Assess your resources: what already exists?  Who can help you?

  3. Adults: listen up!   Effective communication begins with listening and setting stereotypes aside.

  4. Beware of jargon and slang!

  5. Plan for interactive activities that break through tension and age barriers.

  6. Do something!  A crucial building block for bringing people together is through concrete action.

  7. Plan meaningful and challenging opportunities for youth and adults to serve in the community.

  8. Recognize youth and adults for their efforts!

  9. Spread the word!  Tell others about your experiences creating youth-adult partnerships!

 

© 2008. 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 

 

 

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"Poor are those among us who lose their capacity to dream, to create their courage to denounce and announce..."

Paulo Freire

 

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