Youth Voice Tip Sheet

The Freechild Institute Youth Voice Toolkit

The Freechild Institute believes – and this website is meant to show – that young people are powerful contributors to social change around the world. But when was the last time you heard their voices? Honestly sat down and listened to youth and heard what a young person had to say? Here are some tips about Youth Voice today, written by youth and adults for adults.

What Is Youth Voice?

Youth Voice is the perspectives, ideas, experiences, knowledge, and actions of young people. Youth voice doesn’t mean talking loudly or shouting to be heard, and it is not about drowning out other people’s voices, including adults. Youth voice is about considering the perspectives and ideas of young people, respecting what everyone has to say, taking risks, listening, sharing, and working together.

How Can I Listen to Youth Voice?

You really want to listen to youth voice?  Then start by looking inside yourself. Before you go listening to youth voice, ask yourself these questions:

  • Who am I?
  • Where did I come from?
  • What do I stand for?
  • What do I stand against?

Then look at the young people around you. Where are they from? What do they stand for? What do they stand against? If you don’t know the answers to these questions, then go ask those young people – and ask sincerely, and ask honestly. If young people know what they believe, then they will tell you. If they don’t know, then you can support them by facilitating opportunities for them to discover. But don’t make up your mind beforehand – that’s the important part.

Is That All It Takes?

“Youth Voice” is not the best title. There is no such thing as one singleYouth Voice. The voices of young people are infinite, like the universe, with an infinite amount of stars, each burning a different way. Young people have a lot of different identities, each representing their different communities, their cultures, and their heritage. It is the responsibility of adult allies to hear their voices, in all of their diversity. When many people say “Youth Voice”, they are attempting to put all young people into the same boat. It is the responsibility of adults to acknowledge that every youth is a unique individual.

Who Should Listen to Youth Voice?

When youth voice is engaged in communities, schools, and organizations, young people grow more capable, effective, and powerful than we have ever imagined.  They enhance their academic skills with “real world” experience, learn leadership and citizenship skills and the importance of helping and working with others.

Just as important, adults grow more energized, creative, and insightful.  Their work becomes more responsive, and their hearts become more engaged.  Sharing responsibility of community building lifts the weight of working alone.

In our communities, young people are viewed as problem solvers rather than problem makers.  When young people help make decisions, programs are more likely to meet their needs.  And when young people are part of the process they feel ownership, mobilize others and become powerful role models.  Most importantly, youth voice unites people to work for improved communities and schools.

What Does Youth Voice DO?

In communities, schools, small towns, and cities across the United States and around the world, Youth Voice is changing society, economies, the environment, and more. Youth Voice engages children and youth as…

The issues young people are addressing through Youth Voice are just as diverse as the actions they are taking.

Youth voice is typically not something you either have or don’t have in your agency, organization or community… The goal for establishing meaningful roles for youth and insuring that they have an important voice in decision-making is not to get to a state of 100% self-management, that is simply a logical extreme and one option within many different levels of involvement and effective use of youth engagement and voice. – from 

How Can I Build Youth Voice?

If you are a youth, you can build Youth Voice if you…

  • DO speak up!
  • DO invite adults to share skills, experiences and resources.
  • DO commit time and energy to do the work.
  • DO take responsibility seriously.
  • DO seek to involve other young people.
  • DON’T assume all adults will treat you like your parents treat you.
  • DON’T over commit yourself.
  • DON’T forget to ask questions.
  • DON’T forget that you ARE a young person.

If you are an adult, you can build Youth Voice if you…

  • DO involve young people in the decision-making from the very beginning (before its too late for them to be a part of meaningful change).
  • DO include as many young people as possible.
  • DO listen… really listen to young people and be willing to learn from them.
  • DO provide young people with the information, training and support they need to succeed.
  • DO plan meetings where everyone feels welcome.
  • DON’T blame all young people for the actions of one young person.
  • DON’T ask youth to attend your meetings and then ignore the ideas they give to you.
  • DON’T invite youth for image reasons.
  • DON’T schedule meetings at times when youth can’t participate: during school, late at night, etc.
  • DON’T use youth as a “stamp of approval” (showing them a completed project and asking them to tell you they like it).

Where Do I Begin?

  • Assess your stereotypes, judgments, and preconceptions of others.
  • Assess your resources: what already exists?  Who can help you?
  • Adults: listen up!   Effective communication begins with listening and setting stereotypes aside.
  • Beware of jargon and slang!
  • Plan for interactive activities that break through tension and age barriers.
  • Do something!  A crucial building block for bringing people together is through concrete action.
  • Plan meaningful and challenging opportunities for youth and adults to serve in the community.
  • Recognize youth and adults for their efforts!
  • Spread the word!  Tell others about your experiences engaging Youth Voice.



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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