For more than a century, youth workers, parents and educators around the world have been trying to engage Youth Voice. Because of this, there are a lot of myths that are different from the realities of Youth Voice. Following are some of the myths we’ve found.
MYTH #1: Youth Voice sounds good on paper, but my school/program/ organization/community/region/ agency/situation is different.
REALITY: While it is true that each community is different, Youth Voice is always present, whether or not it is utilized. It is important to remember that what works immediately and effectively in one may not have the same results in another; however, that is why every community needs to make its own space for Youth Voice. By recognizing the desperate necessity of engaging young people, all kinds of communities can benefit. Community groups, organizations, schools, and neighborhoods across Washington are relying on Youth Voice because young people are relying on them. Start by engaging young people in small and doable tasks, and work your way into larger projects over time. Eventually your community will have a successfully customized strategy for Youth Voice.
MYTH #2: Youth Voice is all about youth.
REALITY: Youth Voice cannot ever be “all about youth.” Without recognizing a larger community around them, young people and adult allies cannot call for Youth Voice. By specifically engaging young people, communities recognize Youth Voice as being about more than young people. Youth Voice is about children, youth, and adults working in common – together. Youth Voice is about communities and democracy, and other people.
MYTH #3: We only need to focus on Youth Voice when there are problems to deal with.
REALITY: Anyone who works with communities needs Youth Voice everyday to keep them honest, connected, effective, and realistic. And let’s face it – our communities have never existed without challenges – perhaps that is because we keep waiting to engage young people. Young people can contribute to everyday projects as well as crisis intervention.
MYTH #4: It is too hard to engage young people when I can just do the work myself.
REALITY: Any seasoned Youth Voice practitioner will tell you that it is an everyday challenge to engage young people. However, there are everyday rewards as well: adults feel more satisfaction about their jobs, that organizations become more successful meeting their missions, and that youth feel more connected to the world around them. Young people are also resources in and of themselves: our communities cannot afford to deny the abilities they possess any longer, and with their seemingly boundless capacity to contribute, children and youth may be our state’s most sustainable, renewable energy source!
MYTH #5: Youth Voice can only be heard by special or gifted adults.
It is great to sit in a room of allies and people who “get it”, but most people don’t “get it”. By perpetuating the myth that only some adults can get it, we’re actually doing a disservice to the Youth Voice movement. When adults work in high pressure environments and other places where Youth Voice seems quaint or non-essential, it can be challenging to hone the skills and knowledge necessary to be an effective Youth Voice practitioner. However, through training and ongoing support, any adult or youth can be an effective, empowered Youth Voice advocate, listener and practitioner.
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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.