In order to understand the breadth and ability of youth to change the world, we have to understand what exactly is happening through youth action. Over the course of working with hundreds of organizations across North America in the last 20 years, Freechild Institute has learned, listened and led dozens of projects focused on youth action.
To share our experience, we’ve summarized some of our learning into this graphic we’re calling a Spectrum of Youth Action. It includes five main points:
Youth Voice is any expression of any young person anywhere, anytime, for any reason. Learn more »
Youth Involvement is the systematic placement of young people to affect, drive, or take action within an activity, organization or community. Learn more »
Youth Engagement is when youth choose the same thing over and over. Learn more »
Youth Empowerment is when young people take charge of their lives, actions and surroundings. Learn more »
Youth Participation is when young people actively belong in activities, organizations or communities. Learn more »
Use the links above to learn more about the points on the Spectrum of Youth Action.
After a decade of research focusing on United States and international laws, the Freechild Institute has found there are many laws that both enshrine and combat adultism. Many of these try to protect youth from discrimination.
Issues Addressed By Laws
These laws prohibit or ban things that are done to youth or things that youth are excluded from, including:
Discrimination against youth by physical, sexual, and/or psychological maltreatment or neglect
Discrimination against youth through illegal labor, endangerment and infanticide
Discrimination against youth through parental actions including youth maltreatment
Discrimination against youth because of their gender identity and/or sexual orientation
Discrimination against youth through sexual abuse/exploitation
Discrimination against youth through neglect or abuse
Discrimination against youth through sexual or labor trafficking
Discrimination against youth with disabilities
Discrimination against youth through familial migration
Discrimination against youth through unaccompanied children in a situation of migration
Discrimination against youth without parental care or who are in alternative care
Discrimination against youth in police custody or detention
Discrimination against homeless youth
Discrimination against youth with parents in prison or custody
Discrimination against youth in court or other judicial proceedings
Discrimination against youth in custody disputes, including parental child abduction
Discrimination against youth because of their race
Discrimination against youth in minority ethnic groups
Discrimination against youth through female genital mutilation or forced marriage
Discrimination against youth through who are not in compulsory education or training or working children below the legal age for work
Discrimination against bullying or cyberbullying against youth
Who Is Affected?
Stakeholders in these issues space all the areas touched upon, including youth, parents, law enforcement, teachers, community educators, public health workers, social workers, government officials, school leaders, elected representatives, youth workers, business owners, medical doctors, NGO leaders, community advocates, mental health counselors, and many, many others.
Lawmakers who could make laws to further prevent youth discrimination include local elected officials include mayors, members of a county commission, city counsel, school board, utility or hospital district; a judge, a justice of the peace, a county or city attorney, a marshal, a sheriff, a constable and a registrar of deeds; tax collectors and assessors; and members of advisory boards and committees.
These individuals control, have power over, legislate or otherwise represent all people in democratic societies, including youth. They can make, enforce, modify or otherwise affect youth in countless ways, and are essential all elected officials who can prevent youth discrimination.
Similarly, in many countries a president and the vice president or another democratically elected official on the national level can prevent youth discrimination. In many states, a governor, a secretary of state, or a member of a legislative body such as the Congress or a state legislature can affect youth discrimination.
How To Change Laws
Organize and mobilize youth to speak up, take action and advocate for change! You can change laws to stop adultism even more effectively. Here are some steps you can take.
Invite policymakers to freechild.org to learn about adultism. Educate legislators by providing them with data, research, stories and general information about adultism. They might not know what it is, what it does, who it affects and what the outcomes are. Share us!
Meet with policymakers in person while they are at their in-district offices during congressional recess. Make appointments and go to meetings and share data and research that highlights adultism in your community.
Call your elected officials’ offices to weigh in on specific adultism-related issues. Host educational meetings and trainings to gather, network and share information on adultism in policies, rules and laws.
Share stories, data and resources with elected officials to illustrate how their decisions promote adultism. Educate the public about the policymaking process and how it promotes adultism. Introduce youth and their adult allies to elected officials who represent them, and talk about adultism.
Participate in lobbying visits or hold anti-adultism advocacy days to advocate for or against specific legislation. Build public awareness by educating community members on adultism in specific laws that impact young people and their communities.
Draft a petition or sign-on letter to express views about adultism and recruit youth and/or adults to sign on.
Organize a rally, town hall or press conference to build public awareness about adultism and to hold policymakers accountable.
Write an op-ed or letter to the editor to share your expertise on adultism in laws that recently became important in your school or community.
Participate in a town hall and ask your elected officials questions about their position on adultism overall and in specific laws.
Encourage citizens to vote (through nonpartisan voter mobilization efforts).
Submit comments or feedback on policies affecting children and youth as they are being developed.
Use social media like Twitter, Instagram and Facebook to educate the public and lawmakers about adultism. Don’t forget to tag them and include #facingadultism hashtags!
Transforming a city—one that is likely complex and has been in place for centuries—into a place that engages all youth everywhere all the time can be difficult. Questions commonly raised by youth and adults looking to foster citywide youth engagement strategies include:
Who should be engaged?
What should our youth engagement strategy look like?
How will we know if it works?
To help address these and many other questions, the Freechild Institute has written this article to guide the development of citywide youth engagement strategies. We have worked with several communities to develop these strategies. The approaches we develop strive to build youth engagement systems that help communities design, implement, and sustain strategies to youth engagement that are data-driven and focused on your community’s unique strengths and needs, making your systems much more likely to succeed.
Step 1: Plan a System Assessment
Identify the extent to which current operations align with or deviate from the features of an effective citywide youth engagement strategy. Specifically, it can offer guidance on:
Reviewing the scope of youth engagement;
Reviewing the roles and responsibilities, and;
Affirming the timeline for youth engagement throughout your community.
Step 2: Review the policies that govern youth engagement
Examine the rules and policies that govern youth engagement throughout your community to figure out what is and is not needed at each point throughout your community.
Step 3: Collect quantitative data on how and who is using the system
Explore how to gather data on the volume and characteristics of youth engagement throughout your community, allowing you to identify those areas that are working well and those that are broken and in need of repair. Specifically, collect high-level, aggregate statistics on the following data elements:
Types of engagement
Demographics of young people, communities and stakeholders
Purposes, intentions and visions
Service needs and other systemic opportunities
Youth engagement times and costs
Locations for youth engagement, length of engagement, and costs
Step 4: Collect qualitative data on how local stakeholders perceive youth engagement
Gather the impressions, opinions, and general insight of youth engagement system stakeholders. This can help order to form a more holistic narrative of the community. Specifically, gather this information from the following groups:
Stakeholders who work in the youth engagement system
Step 5: Collect information on local service capacity
Determine the existing local capacity for facilitating youth engagement with young people, parents, nonprofits, schools, government agencies, and others. Specifically:
Develop a list of youth engagement champions, providers and facilitators
Survey champions, providers and facilitators
Step 6: Analyze the Data
Actively and intentionally use the policies and quantitative, qualitative and service capacity information you have collected to inform and drive your work. Specifically:
Uncover the narrative of your youth engagement system
Present and reflect upon key findings as a citywide youth engagement strategy
Step 7: Create a Citywide Youth Engagement Strategy
Using the data you’ve collected, create a citywide youth engagement strategy. As you develop your tool, consider each of the data points you’ve collected and your analysis of the data. Your strategy should be applicable throughout your entire city and reflect your goals. Essential elements of the strategy should reflect:
Do we need more special opportunities for particular youth to change the world? In these years of Freechild, we’ve discovered many youth engagement activities are merely opportunities for young people who are already privileged to exercise their privilege. Instead of making more opportunities for engaged youth to become more engaged, the Freechild Institute promotes the idea that we need to create new opportunities for youth engagement throughout our communities.
That’s why when we teach communities about youth engagement today, we say that in order to engage youth, you should start anywhere, go everywhere with every youth and every adult in every community all of the time.
That means that…
…If you’re a parent at home, watch what your youth are already doing right now, choosing to do again and again and build from that. Support them, help them expand their thinking, work with them to build their skills, and share new ideas about those things your youth are engaged in right now.
…If you’re a community-based youth worker, find out what issues matter most to the youth you support, and support them in taking action to address those issues instead of making everything focus on your issues that you or your organization have chosen for them to be involved in.
…Teachers in classrooms can base their curriculum – whether its math or science or reading or public speaking – in the experiences, ideas and knowledges students bring into classrooms right now. Find out what they’re struggling with and make your lessons relevant to them, and move forward by sending them into action to learn from.
…No matter who we are or what we do, we each have an obligation to do what we can with what we have where we’re at right now. That’s what youth engagement is – practical, pragmatic and purposeful action, right now.
Start anywhere, go everywhere with every youth and every adult in every community all of the time. What can you do today?
When we’re planning for youth engagement, its important to have a vision, dream big and hope for the absolute best. Its vital to hold out for the most positive, powerful outcomes no matter what the odds, and to stick our necks out. However, to do that best we should put youth engagement plans on paper or type them up and share them with the people involved.
The locations for youth engagement vary according to the community or organization doing the mapping. They can include formal and informal spaces; adult-approved and youth-driven places; and other sorts of possibilities for people to gather, belong, dream and take action. In the research and practice of the Freechild Institute since 2001, we’ve found there are three consistent factors affecting these locations for youth engagement. Those factors are:
Our youth engagement mapping process can help communities and organizations expand their activities with intention and purpose while deepening the impact they have on young people and their communities.
Here’s a process Freechild uses with youth and adults to map youth engagement.
Define a goal. Name what exactly you’d like to do; don’t just say, “Engage youth.” Instead, name who, what, when, where, why and how you’re going to engage youth.
Identify allies. Find younger and older people who will support you while you’re engaging youth.
Identify likely challenges. There are a lot of forces working against youth engagement; name them.
Uncover layers of power. Power affects youth engagement a lot. Name the ways, show their faces and write them down.
Develop a strategy. There’s no magic wand and it doesn’t often just happen. How exactly are you going to engage youth?
Create a message. Young people are saturated by media of all kinds. Appealing to them requires a real message that’s authentically delivered to them. What’s your message?
Get out there. How are you taking action for youth engagement? What are the places, people, preparations and outcomes you’re looking for? Get to work!
Create a calendar. Show people how, where and when youth engagement is going to happen by creating a visual calendar and sharing it.
Estimate needed resources. Youth engagement takes resources – what are yours?
Monitor and evaluate. Keep your eyes open, your heart beating, your feet on the ground and your hands in the mud through monitoring and evaluation.
Once you’ve started a youth engagement map, consider what’s missing, find other people to contribute, and keep building!