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.
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.
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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.