Be An Adult Ally to Youth
Youth Voice happens everywhere, all of the time. That means the essential question isn’t “How can we get youth to share youth voice?”; it is actually “How can we get adults to listen to Youth Voice?”. There are adults who actually do that, and they are called adult allies.
Staying committed to supporting Youth Voice can be challenging. Often spending too many hours and earning too few rewards, its important for people who support young people to be honest about how its going. If you’re a parent, youth worker, educator, counselor, or anyone else who strives to be an adult ally, you need to learn to work through the struggle. We all need to learn to work through the struggle, if we’re going to stay committed.
Essential Questions for Adult Allies
We each need to know how to work through the struggle of supporting young people every day. The following questions are intended to help adult allies to young people ask themselves whether they need to consider something different. They’re aren’t finished, and if you have any suggestions please leave them in the comments section.
So, if you’re a struggling teacher, counselor, parent, youth worker, or other adult ally to young people, take a moment and answer the following questions:
1. Have you ever decided to have a good day with the young people you’re around, only to have it last for just a few hours?
Most of us in who support young people make all kinds of promises to ourselves. We cannot keep them. Then we come to understand that engaging young people requires being honest, and we start to tell the truth to ourselves and young people.
2. Do you ever wish children and youth would just grow up sometimes, and stop being so childish?
Adult allies to young people do not project their demands on youth; instead, we accept them as they are, for who they are. We see potential, but do not demand certain outcomes. Instead, we work with who we are.
3. Have you ever switched from supporting one type of young people to another in the hope that this would keep you from burning out?
Adult allies to young people support young people in many ways. We spend time with them everyday. Or we donate money. Or we advocate for them. Or we volunteer for boards. You name it, we do it. Anything we do we see through the lenses of supporting young people, because that is who we are.
4. Have you had to quit a job supporting young people during the past year in order to stay or become mentally healthy?
This is a pretty sure sign you’re not sustainable in your role as an adult ally to young people.
5. Do you need to be around young people to feel “alive”?
At one time or another, most adult allies to youth have wondered why we were not like most people, who really can be around anyone and be healthy and alive.
6. Do you envy people who do not work with young people?
Be honest! Eventually, you have to find something else to do if you’re an educator or youth worker, because it will only get worse for you, not better. Eventually, you will not like young people at all, and will quit in anger or dire necessity. Your only hope may be to quit now before radical emotions take over.
7. Have you had problems connected with being an adult ally to young people during the past year?
Most well-meaning adults will say it is the people they work with or the program they deliver that frustrates them. Many times, we can not see that trying to support young people is making our lives worse. At that point, we stop solving problems and start becoming the problem.
8. Is it easier for you to support young people in your job or larger community than it is to support the children and youth in your own home or program?
Most of us started our jobs thinking it was grand. If young people aren’t cooperative though, or if the program isn’t just right, we get frustrated and have to leave or quit.
9. Do you ever try to get “extra” time with young people because you didn’t get enough at work, home, your faith community, or otherwise? Many adult allies trick ourselves into thinking that we can’t do enough at work, and when we’re done getting paid we have to keep going. However, we come to realize that it is not self-sustainable to keep going, and that at the end of our day, we have to stop, for our own good and the good of the young people we work with. Same with parents.
10. Do you tell yourself you can get a job doing anything, or be any kind of parent you want to, but you keep supporting young people as an adult ally even when you don’t want to?
Many of us know that we have boundaries, but we don’t acknowledge them or work within them. Instead, we soldier through hoping to make a difference. We are not though.
11. Have you missed days of work or taken a sick day at home because you didn’t want to support the young people you’re around every day?
When we don’t allow ourselves time off, many adult allies “call in sick” despite the truth that we need time to recuperate our hearts and minds more than our bodies.
12. Have you ever felt that your life would be better if you did not support young people?
Many adult allies start off well-intentioned, hoping to make a difference in the lives of someone younger than ourselves. Once we do the work though, whether parenting or counseling or teaching or coaching or whatever, we discover that we have limits. Then we feel trapped. Eventually it takes a toll on us, and we have to admit that we shouldn’t be doing the work we’re doing anymore. If we’re a parent, we know we have to get support, either from a spouse or friend or extended family.
If we are authentic adult allies to young people, we all struggle with our roles supporting them. You are likely to be more aware of the effects of adults on youth throughout society, and more empathetic with youth in general. I say this because I’ve worked with thousands of teachers, parents, counselors, and other adult allies to youth, and they all say so and show me as much. Many of them found out their truths the hard ways though: Burn out, getting fired, or physical injuries resulting from sloppy self-care.
But again, only you can decide whether you think you should keep being an active, engaged ally to young people.
Rules for Adult Allies of Youth
Following are seven rules The Freechild Project uses to guide our practice.
- If you don’t experience discomfort everytime you’re listening to Youth Voice, you aren’t listening right.
- If you can’t stay engaged enough to simply sit and listen to young people talk, you aren’t being an adult ally.
- If you can’t speak your truth to young people you aren’t in a youth/adult partnership.
- If you can’t expect and accept not having closure when young people share their voices you aren’t being an adult ally.
- Listening to Youth Voice means listening for understanding, rather than to support your own conclusions.
- If you’re an adult ally to young people you’ll engage, support, and challenge them, and not try to fix them. They aren’t broken.
- If you aren’t taking risks you aren’t being an adult ally.
These are seven guidelines. What more would you add? Share in the comments section below!
- Introduction to Youth Voice
- Youth Voice Glossary
- Assumptions Behind Youth Voice
- Principles of Authentic Youth Voice
- Measure of Social Change Led By and With Young People
- Ladder of Youth Voice
- Keys to Youth Voice
- Cycle of Youth Voice
- Guidelines for Youth Voice
- Honor Youth Voice
- Youth/Adult Relationships Spectrum
- Creating Safe and Supportive Environments for Youth Voice
- Institutionalizing Youth Voice
- The Diversity of Youth Voice
- New Roles for Youth Voice
- The Youth Voice Movement
- Discrimination Against Youth Voice
- Myths About Youth Voice
- Sustain Youth Voice
- Assessing Youth Voice
- Youth/Adult Partnerships
- Adult Allies of Youth
- The End of Youth Voice
- Youth Voice Tip Sheet
- Youth Voice Organizations
- Youth Voice Publications
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.