“I care about this right now. Why should I wait to do something?”
“I can’t ignore the challenges my family faces anymore.”
“This affects our entire community and our entire community needs to take action.”
This is the wisdom of youth.
These could be the voices of wise elders from around the world, speaking strongly about issues that matter. They could be the voices of parents, concerned about their children.
Instead, they are comments from young people, speaking with the passion and wisdom that comes from their age. As our world becomes more connected through technology and marketing, more youth need to be encouraged to define who they are, where they are from, and what they stand for – and what they stand against.
Young people are working with adults in their communities to create positive, effective, and sustainable change in the world today. Across the United States and around the world there is a growing movement that seeks to hear, strengthen, and empower young people.
Young people are becoming active by making decisions, reflecting on learning, planning for action, and advocating for change throughout their lives, and throughout the communities they belong to. This is Youth Voice.
Defining “Youth Voice”
Lots of people in are talking about Youth Voice today. Over the last 15 years a grassroots movement promoting Youth Voice has emerged, counting among its ranks young people, parents, teachers, youth workers, researchers, and others. Politicians, government officials, and mainstream media are practicing using the phrase. But it seems like everyone has their own definition. When the phrase “Youth Voice” is used, it is usually meant to describe the perspectives of teens. Occasionally, the phrase includes younger children. At the Freechild Institute, we summarize these different intentions with our definition:
Youth Voice is the active, distinct, and concentrated ways young people represent themselves throughout society.
That means that youth voice can happen whenever young people…
- Paint a graffiti mural across the wall
- Text the answers to a test underneath the desk
- Conduct research into racist housing practice.
- Volunteer at the neighborhood food bank
- Fight in the park at night
- Speak at the city council hearing
- Spend money online
- Submit a drawing to the art show
- Sit quiet in the after school program all year
- Compete in a swim meet
- Run away from home
All of these are ways that young people share youth voice. This also means that youth voice is any expression of any youth about anything, anywhere at anytime. All youth voice can be powerful.
More than a Title
Freechild Institute illustrates how Youth Voice requires action. It is more than making kids heard – it is actually empowering children and youth with purpose. Youth Voice is more than a goal for young people alone; instead, it is an awesome avenue towards identifying and creating what is good for everyone, our common good.
Engaging young people can build a strong sense of community, a commitment to civic action, and a passion for active learning. This toolkit explores each of those outcomes, ultimately challenging readers to engage young people in order to strengthen democracy. Democracy is more than a buzzword, a political party, or an old-fashioned idea from history books.
Youth voice is at the center of community, and in the heart of learning. Democracy is an action, an attitude, and a journey that provides a hopeful, energetic, and responsible future for everyone in our society, including young people, seniors, parents, little brothers, big sisters, neighbors, leaders, and everyday people. Democracy is vital to our individual and collective good, now and in the future. Democracy is for everyone, and so is Youth Voice.
Youth Voice Tools
We believe it is important to make everything about Youth Voice with young people, and to be as transparent as possible. In this toolkit, we seek to:
- Share the meanings of the language »
- Expose the underlying assumptions »
- Reveal the myths about Youth Voice »
- Detail how to create supportive environments »
- Explore meaningful relationships »
- Identify how to honor differences »
- Examine the diversity among young people »
- Uplift different roles throughout our communities »
- Explain new principles »
- Highlight the Youth Voice movement »
- Help challenge discrimination against Youth Voice »
- Explain the self-defeating tendencies of well-meaning adults »
What Is Next?
Throughout our society, youth voice has been continually trampled, repressed, manipulated and dismissed for hundreds of years. It’s been held suspect; seen as a way to make money; treated dismissively, and; neglected at the expense of families, communities, schools and countries. However, over the last two decades youth voice has been given more opportunities to be heard in authentic, deliberate, focused, and positive ways.
Brazilian critical pedagogue Paulo Freire wrote,
“Poor are those among us who lose their capacity to dream, to create their courage to denounce and announce…”
We hope this collection of tools helps the Youth Voice movement dream, create, renounce and announce the power, possibility and hope inherent in intergenerational equity and radical democracy.
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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.