Cycle of Youth Engagement

Freechild Project youth in a forum on homelessness in Olympia, Washington

Freechild Institute Youth Engagement Toolkit

“Arriving at one goal is the starting point to another.”

—John Dewey

The Cycle of Youth Engagement was created by Adam Fletcher after he examined more than 3,000 youth engagement activities in K-12 schools and youth organizations across the United States and Canada.

It was designed to illustrate a clear process everyone can use to engage young people throughout our communities. The most important tip here is to consider Youth Voice as more than simply hearing, checking-in, or talking to young people. Youth Voice is action, and action fosters engagement.

Cycle of Engagement © 2016 Adam Fletcher for Freechild Project.

Explore the Cycle of Youth Engagement

Following are the parts of the Cycle of Youth Engagement. Each part has important points to consider, and lessons for youth and adults to learn.

1. Listen to Youth

You know the drill: You’re at your desk one day during class, working away at an important project when a friend comes up to you really excited, saying, “Hey, listen to this…” You tilt your head a little, and maybe lean towards them, but you keep doing whatever you were. You’re not really listening, are you? You might be hearing them talk, and you might even understand what they’re saying – but you’re not really thinking about it or feeling it. That’s the difference between listening and hearing, and that’s where Youth Engagement starts – when young people have an actively engaged audience to listen to their ideas, opinions, experiences, knowledge, and/or actions. However, listening is just the first step; Youth Voice requires more.

2. Validate Youth

You’ve heard adults say it, and you might have said it yourself: “Oh, that’s really nice.” We try to say “nice” in just the right way, but to young people it seems really insincere. We think we’re doing the “right thing” by encouraging young people move forward, but in our heads we really thinking about the time we fell flat on our face from the same approach. Instead of hiding our true thoughts, it’s the job of adults to honestly validate what young people say or do by honestly reacting to it, how we sincerely feel or think about it. If we think an initiative will fail, we should say so. Validation means disagreeing – or agreeing – as we honestly believe, and respecting young people enough to explain why and search for alternatives, if appropriate.

3. Authorize Youth

Authority is an awesome word that can be intimidating for young people as well as adults. However, without authority, Youth Voice is just a hollow cry in a loud argument. By building the skills of children and youth to engage in Democracy, adults can provide practical steps towards actual empowerment, instead of just words. As well as the skills, adults must engage young people in activities that are actually powerful, purposeful, and rewarding. As young people apply their new skills to practical action, Youth Engagement gains the authority to make a difference.

4. Act With Youth

Youth Voice doesn’t just happen – it must be actively engaged. Taking action through Youth Engagement requires children, youth, and adults working together to make the space, place, and ability for young people to create change. Action can – and should – look different everywhere: from identifying the challenge, researching the issue, planning for action, training for effectiveness, reflection on the process, to celebrating the outcomes, Youth Engagement is totally flexible – but the purpose of engaging youth is not. The purpose of Youth Engagement should always be to create, support, and sustain powerful, purposeful, and meaningful communities for everyone to belong to. An important caution: action is usually seen as the most important step. However, this makes positive outcomes the most important thing. Unfortunately, for many issues, positive outcomes rarely come, or if they do, not for the current generation of youth involved. For many young people, the next step can be the most important component of Youth Engagement.

5. Reflect with Youth

Reflection may be the most important ongoing step to engaging children and youth. When young people and adults critically assess and analyze Youth Engagement, learning becomes a vibrant, intricate, and powerful tool for change. Reflection activities used should be appropriate for diverse learners – writing, acting, creating collages, and building activities are all good examples. Once your group has finished reflecting, those lessons should be incorporated into the next listening activity, to support a cyclical approach to Youth Engagement.

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Other tools are out there, too – share your thoughts in the comments below! For more information about how The Freechild Project can help support youth voice in your community or organization, contact us.

The Practice of Youth Engagement by Adam Fletcher
The Practice of Youth Engagement by Adam Fletcher!

One response to “Cycle of Youth Engagement”

  1. How we define youth voice should consider by government.

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