Many people want young people to feel connected and enthusiastic about their communities, their organizations or their learning. However, there is a large segment of the population that simply does not know what to do when it comes to meaningfully and deliberately engage Youth Voice in a sustainable way. For those folks, their best intentions are sometimes undermined by their own ignorance or inability. In order to begin to address that lack of knowledge or ability, we need to identify why Youth Voice ends.
Sometimes Youth Voice ends. Following are some of the ways that happens.
10. Make decisions for youth without youth.
Rules? Program themes? Evaluation topics? Activities? Making decisions for youth without them is one way to end Youth Voice. Worst still, making decisions for young people without them while they are in the room further disengages Youth Voice.
9. Be the designated driver.
Telling youth what to think and where to go is another way to end Youth Voice. Whispering in the ears of children and youth as frequently as possible, or assuming full authority when there is a loggerhead, is another way to end Youth Voice.
8. Filter what is said and done.
Letting adult perceptions of young peoples’ inability and lack of knowledge get in the way of action is another way to end Youth Voice. Saying for children and youth what they can say for themselves is another way. Telling young people that you don’t believe they can speak for themselves or speaking for them also ends Youth Voice.
7. Throw young people into the fire.
Neglecting to teach children and youth about the issues they are supposed to be addressing, or about the possibilities they might not know about ends Youth Voice. The adage of jumping out of the pot and into the fire is not an appropriate way to foster Youth Voice.
6. Defeat young people behind their backs.
When adults refute everything young people say after they have attended and participated in an activity or once they leave the room or the program or the class leads to the end of Youth Voice. Telling young people that you do not have the time, patience or interest in what they say, and working to undo everything young people said or did in a deconstructive, anti-collaborative fashion ends Youth Voice as well.
5. Privately deny young people.
Saying things to the effect of, “We don’t want to hear from you right now,” or, “Kids are better seen and not heard” ends Youth Voice. When young people speak up or show up, and adults stand in front of them or speak over them – no matter the time or place – leads to the end of Youth Voice. Showing adult power and gloating to young people about adult power as often as possible ends Youth Voice.
4. Sabotage young people as often as possible.
When adults go behind the backs of children and youth and undoing the successes they’ve experienced they successfully end Youth Voice. Showing that adults connect with other adults better than youth, and demonstrating that they know the system better than those kids is also a Youth Voice ender. When adults use their ability to vote, drive, go to movies and generally do whatever they want to that also ends Youth Voice.
3. Publicly deny young people.
When adults stand in front of the TV cameras and microphones and refute the actions of young people after they have been successful creating change or transforming cultures, that ends Youth Voice. Going to parents and teachers and youth workers, politicians and officials and others, and explaining to them that “those” youth were wrong, as well as being adamant, showing evidence and research, and simply exerting adult strength and willpower over the actions of youth also ends Youth Voice.
2. Manipulate youth – and then tell them.
When adults lure children and youth into youth activities by promising them rewards like class credit or cash they can show that Youth Voice is not significant without adult acknowledgment. Squeezing the words and actions out of young people by making them write a book, lead a course, facilitate a conference or some other such thing further suffocates Youth Voice. When its all said and done, telling young people that you simply used them to fulfill a grant objective or assessment item effectively ends Youth Voice. More so, telling them what they did does not really matter seals it off.
1. Punish young people for becoming engaged.
When young people become enthusiastic and connected to the task at hand or goal in mind, sometimes adults explain that they should not be so connected. After they spent all morning on the bus to get there, then they get there, telling young people they are not going to meet today thwarts Youth Voice. When adults take the accomplishments of young people away from them by letting it “rot on the vine” they also end Youth Voice. Finally, when adults show children and youth that caring hurts, and act like it, they end Youth Voice.
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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.