Youth Engagement as Youth Advisors

The Freechild Institute Youth Involvement Toolkit

When youth advise adults they provide genuine knowledge, wisdom, and ideas to each other, adults, organizations, institutions, communities, and other locations and activities that affect them and their world at large. Engaging youth as advisors requires adults to move beyond simply treating youth like puppies to be trained! It means meaningfully, substantively and truly engaging young people and adults in equitable partnerships that substantiate everyone’s perspectives and actions.

“If you had a problem in the Black community, and you brought in a group of White people to discuss how to solve it, almost nobody would take that panel seriously. In fact, there’d probably be a public outcry. It would be the same the for women’s issues or gay issues. But every day, in local arenas all the way to the White House, adults sit around and decide what problems youth have and what youth need, without ever consulting us.”

— Jason, a 17-year-old Youth Force member in the Bronx, New York City

How Youth Engagement as Advisors Happens

Youth Editors — With their unique perspectives on grammar, content and focus, youth editors can help websites, publications, video productions and other visual or word creations have new flavor and dynamic values that expand their boundaries and potential.

Nonprofit Directors — Working as partners specifically with nonprofit executives, youth advisors can help ensure the relevance of youth programming and other community outreach efforts. Different from being a youth advisory board, youth advisors to nonprofit executives develop enriching, enlivening relationships that benefit everyone involved.

Parent Advisors — Often positioned in adversarial roles with parents, engaging youth as advisors in parenting classes and workshops, and family building programs, can allow young people to appropriately partner with parents to transform families and communities.

Needs for Youth Engagement as Advisors

Education — In order to be effective advisors, young people need opportunities to learn the important knowledge in the areas they’re advising on. This can be informal or formal education that happens alone or in a group setting, driven by youth or done in partnership with adults.

Opportunities — Without opportunities to advise their peers or adults, young people can’t be formal advisors. However, acting as advisors to their peers can be engaging, too. When partnering with adults, its important to spell out exactly what the roles and responsibilities of youth advisors are and are not; what the roles of adults are and are not; and whether and how everyone will be accountable to everyone else.

Training — In addition to the education required to be successful advisors in the areas they choose, young people also need training to ensure their effectiveness. This can include training on cultural norms in the organizations they’re advising; familiarizing them on the rules, policies, procedures and laws they’re advising on; and/or the attitudes of the people they’re advising.

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Other tools are out there, too – share your thoughts in the comments below! For more information about how Freechild Institute can support youth + social change in advising in your community or organization, contact us.

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