In a growing number of communities around the world young people and their adult allies are betting on Youth Voice to lead to civic engagement, which is that perfect mix of investment, engagement and ownership in the public good that makes being a community member meaningful. The Freechild Institute has identified several guidelines for Youth Voice.
Guideline #1: Every community should engage every young person.
Learning ability, age, outward interest… none of these should be seen or addressed as barriers to Youth Voice. Instead, these are points to build upon and learned from. Youth Voice is an active, intentional process whereupon young people become purposefully compelled as allies and partners.
Guideline #2: Youth Voice does not end at the doors to a youth program.
Young people must be active within their families and throughout their communities. That goes far beyond classroom assignments or community service. Consistently providing young people with active roles in democratic governance, powerful opportunities for cultural expression, and meaningful experiences of freedom of speech throughout their community can open the doors for Youth Voice.
Guideline #3: Every adult in a young person’s life should feel responsible for engaging that young person throughout their communities.
Only through the constant encouragement and focus of parents, teachers, youth workers, principals, religious leaders, counselors, and other supportive adults will young people feel there is a real investment in their lives that extends beyond their own interests. Every young people should feel that community success is their personal responsibility; likewise, every adult should feel that Youth Voice is theirs.
Guideline #4: Give a young person a lesson about democracy and they’ll think for an hour; teach them how to be a democrat and they will learn a lifetime.
Being a (lower-case) democrat is a job that many adults aspire to impart to young people without every being explicit in their intentions. Every young person must have a meaningful understanding of the nature of democracy, the purpose of community, the course of the community action, and the arch of civic engagement. From kindergarten through graduation, adult allies have more than the opportunity to teach young people about democracy; they have an obligation.
Guideline #5: Youth Voice is never done.
Will Rogers once said, “Even if you’re on the right track you’ll get run over if you don’t move.” We live in a world of transition and change; young people change with the times, and often with the days. Do the same old thing and we’ll get the same old outcomes we’ve always had. Many adults report that young people have changed more in the last 5 years than communities have in the last 25. That gives adults a lot of opportunity to learn from children and youth – and to change communities to really engage Youth Voice. Engagement in change is at the core of lifelong engagement; that should be what community are all about.
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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.