Principles of Authentic Youth Voice

The Freechild Institute Youth Voice Toolkit

Whenever young people say that an activity is particularly powerful or meaningful for them there is a set of conditions present. These conditions can feel difficult to pin down, especially when adults are too busy or too inexperienced to identify them. The following Principles were devised after I spent several months working with a group of youth at a public high school in New York City.

Youth voice relies on transparency, humility and acceptance.

Authentic Youth Voice is…

  • Collective – Activities are led by youth and adults together – not individually
  • Connected  Activities embody interdependence and model it among youth and adults
  • Empowering – Youth voice is a driving force throughout activities
  • Equitable – Adults recognize young people have differing backgrounds that require different approaches
  • Focused – Activities are appropriately outcome-driven
  • Healthy – Respectful disagreement, speaking up, and other avenues that equalize disparities between youth and adults are at the core of the activity
  • Learning – Young people gain skills, knowledge and tools to be effect agents of change
  • Mutually Beneficial – Young people and adults acknowledge each other’s dreams, actions, outcomes and reflections
  • Relevant – Activities are responsive to the lives of young people
  • Responsible – Adults and youth develop and sustain their capacity to be “response-able”
  • Substantive – Activity design and outcomes are designed to impact individuals, organizations, communities and society
  • Self-Motivated – Young people feel driven to participate

Providing these guidelines or devising their own can become an essential function of any youth group or youth-serving organization that seeks to engage young people in social change. These Principles can serve as a guide for the development of new programs and the evaluation of current activities.



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.

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