Systems for Youth Engagement

Freechild Youth Handbook: Get Engaged and Change the World by Adam Fletcher for the Freechild Institute

Our society is filled with systems. A lot of them affect youth. A system is any group of coherent connections resulting in a predictable result.

Whether we’re talking about obvious systems like education, health care and juvenile justice, or less tangible systems like culture and families, it is important to understand how each of these systems affects youth engagement.

Parts of Systems for Youth Engagement

Systems are made of many parts. Some of these are the ways youth engagement is supported and happens; others are the various systems for youth engagement.

This graphic shows some of the elements, types and functions of systems for youth engagement throughout our society.
  • WAYS: The ways youth engagement happens through systems include Procedures, Policies, Practices, Possibilities, Products, Places, Personnel, and People.
  • VARIETY: The various systems for youth engagement include Education, Racial identities, Friendships, Mental health, Economics, Nonprofits, Faith communities, Healthcare, Culture, Business, Sexual identities, Recreation, Ethnic identities, Families, Governments, Entertainment, Public health, and Gender identity.

While I’ve worked with schools, nonprofits, government agencies and other orgs for decades, I’ve explored how and these systems operate. I’ve seen “under the hood” in dozens of communities, watched the bad and the good arise in times of crisis and seasons of apparent ease… and every time I’m reminded of the systems at work.

Wherever they’re sustainably connected, youth engagement happens in systems.

  • Education—Education systems are formal and informal, apparent and subversive. Youth engagement starts in the space where they’re learning.
  • Sports—The youth athletics system includes rules, teams, scores, morals, codes and more
  • Culture—The cultural system all youth belong to includes obvious and not-obvious rules, behavior, attitudes and beyond
  • Economics—The youth employment system exchanges goods and services for money and more

Other systems of youth engagement include school, faith, justice, health, family, civic action, social services, mental health, recreation, or other systems, ALL youth EVERY where can experience the positive, powerful potential of youth engagement. Let’s explore that together!

If you’re interested in understanding systems of youth engagement more, check out this activity »

Freechild offers training on Systems of Youth Engagement. If you’re interested in learning how we can help you, your organization or your community, call (360)489-9680 or send an email.

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Freechild Youth Handbook: Get Engaged and Change the World by Adam Fletcher for the Freechild Institute
Freechild Youth Handbook: Get Engaged and Change the World

4 Elements Youth Need for Social Change

Youth participants in a Freechild program.

Are you a youth who wants to change the world? Are you an adult who wants to engage youth in social change? Since 2001, Freechild Institute has been training youth and adults who want to make a difference. Here are the 4 elements we’ve found that youth need for social change!


The four elements youth need for social change include traits, which are the characteristics of individuals; skills, which are the concrete, actionable abilities in specific and general areas; knowledge, which is the learned information applicable in specific and general ways, and; action, which are the practical ways young people can do things they learned and skills they’ve developed.

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GET TRAINED: Voice, Involvement, Engagement, Action by Freechild Institute,

Adults With Learner Mind

Freechild Project youth and adult workshop participants

Learner mind is the experience of staying open, honest, humble and accepting of opportunities to learn, examine, critique and explore who we are, how we are and what we do in life. Adults with learner mind are committed to learning from young people as well as other adults.

Adult allies work to stretch themselves both personally and professionally. Whether you are a parent, teacher, youth worker or other adult who supports young people, you have to risk embarrassment, misunderstanding and even failure in order learn as much as you can from the people you serve. Having a learner’s mind helps us do that

Seeing through the differences between being stuck in a rut and moving through a groove, adult allies know every youth and every adult has more potential than they ever realize. Adult allies work to constantly unlock that potential, both in themselves and the young people we work with.

Adult allies know they will never “get it right,” and that’s a reality we gladly accept. The only way young people and adults can address new challenges that arise is by learning and growing ourselves to meet them head-on.

Ask Yourself…

  • Do I judge young people too quickly?
  • Do I assume things about young people without evidence, proof or experience?
  • Is it okay for me to become overwhelmed?
  • Do I ask young people for help when I need to?
  • What do young people teach me unexpectedly?
  • Can other adults teach me about myself?

Adult allies strive to keep learning, especially from young people themselves.

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Adults Being Humble

Freechild Project youth in a summer camp session

It is important for adult allies of young people to have humility. Humility is a modest view of your own importance. It means adults see who we really are and what we actually do with young people.

Whether adults are parents, youth workers, teachers or otherwise, being humble can improve relationships, foster partnerships and transform lives.

Adult allies of young people develop and maintain a modest view of their own importance in public and personal perspectives regarding our efforts. Despite all the things they may have accomplished in the past, adult allies will always be challenges ahead.

When adults are not humble, they can show arrogance, which is the opposite of humility. When we work with children and youth, this is shown as adultism and adultcentrism. It diminishes the ability to connect with young people and takes away the effectiveness of every activity we try to do with youth. Adult allies remain committed to challenging their own adultism as well as others because we all struggle with the arrogance instilled in adults simply because of our age–not because we deserve it, earn it or otherwise should have it.

No matter what happens, adult allies want to always respectful towards everyone. Adult allies love to celebrate youth successes, but not in an arrogant or boastful way; instead, adult allies have a quiet confidence because in the long run their character will speak to young people.

Ask Yourself…

  • Am I willing to listen to young people?
  • Am I willing to be wrong?
  • Am I willing to get over myself?
  • Can I let go of my adult power?

Adult allies strive for humility.

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Elsewhere Online

Adultism exists. Let's deal with it. Freechild Institute,

Youth Voice on the Internet

Youth Voice on the Internet by Adam Fletcher

Research shows youth are using the Internet more than ever right now. Based on almost 20 years experience, the Freechild Institute is interested is exploring the reality that this usage is complex and sophisticated, and shares youth voice in nearly countless ways. This article explores how youth voice is happening on the Internet, where it is happening and why it is happening.

Understanding the Issue

With the COVID-19 pandemic sending young people online worldwide, its more important than ever to understand how youth voice can be heard on the internet. This means understanding who shares youth voice, how it happens, why it matters, when youth voice occurs online, and what it means to listen to youth voice online.

Adults’ concerns for young people are often and accidentally distrustful and disrespectful of children and youth. Without intention, we assume the worst of our students and participants in many spaces. Relying on cold data and calculated statistics, our programs and classes figure young people are doing the worst possible things they can be until we correct their course.

Unfortunately, this is true online too. With sensational headlines and screaming pronouncements we decide learners aren’t learning, leaders aren’t leading and youth are going to hell in a handbasket whether they’re playing video games, chatting with friends or otherwise not doing what adults want them to, where they want it done, in ways they can predict.

In order to defeat these worst projections, we have to understand the value of youth voice on the internet.

Four Factors

The graphic above includes four different factors I believe are important when we examine youth voice on the internet. These factors are:

  1. Expressions of Youth Voice on the Internet
  2. Aspects of Youth Voice Online
  3. Types of Youth Voice on the Internet
  4. A Continuum of Youth Voice Online

The following sections explore these four factors.

1. Expressions of Youth Voice on the Internet

Expressions of Youth Voice on the Internet
This graphic illustrates expressions of youth voice online.

In my early writing, I explored how youth voice is best defined as any expression of any young person anywhere, about anything, any time, in any way for any reason at all. This definition reflects the wide-ranging intentions, forms and outcomes of youth voice. It is meant to deny the necessity of adults in youth voice, and instead affirms the most authentic forms of youth voice. Young people do not need adult permission, activities or acceptance to share youth voice; it is already shared wherever youth are all of the time. The question isn’t whether youth are sharing their voices; its whether adults are willing and able to hear what is being said.

All of that said, it is important to expand on what and how adults think youth voice is shared. When I listen to youth voice in my projects, research and home, I look for the following directly from youth themselves:

  • Thoughts
  • Ideas
  • Attitudes
  • Knowledge
  • Tone
  • Feelings
  • Beliefs
  • Opinions
  • Ideas
  • Wisdom
  • Moods

That’s not a complete list of different expressions of youth voice, either. However, it can begin to alert adults to the various ways young people make themselves hear on the internet already. Learn more ways youth voice is expressed elsewhere here »

2. Aspects of Youth Voice Online

Online Youth Voice Aspects
This graphic illustrates two aspects of youth voice on the Internet.

Since youth voice can be expressed in virtually countless ways online, I believe it is vital to examine different aspects of these expressions. One way is by observing the ways youth voice online is private, and the ways youth voice online is public. The difference between these two can be seen like this:

Private Youth Voice can be transient, fluctuating, isolated, direct and immediate. In different types of private youth voice, the expressions of young people can appear and disappear quickly; they are targeted towards certain people, frequently their peers; and they are often intimate, personal and emotional, whether funny, depressing, angry or just blah. It is most often shared alone, between just two people, or within a small group of people. Private youth voice fluctuates and reveals the differentiating nature of young people, changing according to their increasing knowledge, skills and abilities. Finally, its immediate and sudden, often reflecting reflective thinking and critical analysis, but also showing whit, style and perception at the same time.

Public Youth Voice can be more permanent, steady, expansive, indirect and gradual. When young people are talking with adults in large group settings, working together with their peers to lead movements or make large-scale statements, building online strategies and creating massive social change, they are sharing public youth voice. Public youth voice typifies young people because it can seem like these expressions freeze young peoples’s voices in a single place and time, making it appear as a steady, regular phenomenon. With countless issues it can be expressed towards, public youth voice can seem very broad too, and with its apparent permanency public youth voice can seem to make a gradual appearance, as if it comes from a logical, intentional and strategic place.

3. Types of Youth Voice on the Internet

Youth voice activities on the Internet
This graphic illustrates different youth voice activities on the Internet.

The Internet provides a unique avenue for youth voice because it is public and private at the same time.

When youth share different types of youth voice online, they are often hyper-conscious of these different aspects. For instance, in the traditional types of youth voice on the internet, young people create public artifacts for the masses to consume on the web. This includes commenting, web design, blogging, video-making, and conference calls. These are all static ways the Internet has been used for a long time, if not throughout its entire existence.

In current types of youth voice, the internet is used in private ways, including emails, private chat, texting and messaging. These are all transient ways that can and often do completely disappear after they are consumed. Examples of this technology include TikTok, Snapchat, iMessages, Discord and much, much more.

Along with several other ways, social media, gaming and hashtags can represent both private (transient) and public (static) types of youth voice online.

Learn about different ways youth voice is shared »

4. A Continuum of Youth Voice Online

Continuum of Youth Voice Online
This graphic illustrates a continuum of youth voice online.

Understanding why youth express themselves online isn’t rocket science, but isn’t always clear, either. It can be useful to understand all youth voice online through the lenses of the “3 C” continuum: Creation, Consumption and Criticism. These three C’s can help us listen to youth voice on the Internet more effectively:

  • Are youth creating the Internet by producing content and communicating, including chatting, blogging, creating websites, PDFs, infographics, photos, videos, etc.?
  • Are youth consuming the Internet by reading, buying, watching, listening, playing, and otherwise intaking different content already produced on the Internet?
  • Are youth criticizing the Internet and its content with critical thinking and interacting with other web users through conversation, commenting, recreating and remixing the Internet and its content?


When considering these factors, it’s important to understand that youth voice is never simply one thing for all youth, everywhere, all the time—not simply online, but also at home, throughout the community, and far beyond!

Instead, this article is meant to show youth voice on the internet as a broad, dynamic and constantly shifting reality. It can be an avenue for democratic engagement and culture building, as well as critical pedagogy and social justice. However, it can just as easily be weaponized to implement fascism and enforce the will of tyrants.

Do you have a favorite type of youth voice online? What are your questions, comments or concerns about this article? Please share your thoughts, ideas and responses in the comments!

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Youth Voice at Home

Youth Voice at Home

During the COVID-19 Pandemic we’re being asked to shelter at home and socially distance ourselves from our friends, family and coworkers. Young people are suddenly without schools, the basis of many of their social networks, and they are constantly surrounded by their family. This is a new reality that demands adults learn how to shelter at home with youth voice.

Youth voice is any expression of any young person about anything, anywhere, at any time, for any reason.

I define youth voice as any expression of any young person about anything, anywhere, at any time, for any reason. There are no limits or boundaries for youth voice because it isn’t up to adults when, who, where, how, what, or why children and youth choose to express themselves. Young people don’t even have to strive to make themselves heard because they’re always expressing themselves. The question isn’t whether youth are sharing their voices; its whether adults are listening to what’s being shared.

While we’re all locked up at home right now, some of us live with young people. In many homes, adults don’t know what youth voice is. They aren’t familiar with programs at school or in the community seeking to elevate the expressions of young people in positive ways. The thoughts, ideas, knowledge, wisdom and actions—all of which are youth voice—are valid and important at home, too.

Right now, as a father and advocate, I’m more concerned than ever with how parents listen to youth voice, and engage youth voice intentionally. Based on my professional research and practice as well as my personal experience, I compiled the following for adults who are interested in supporting youth voice at home.

Types of Youth Voice at Home

Following are some types of youth voice at home.

Decision-Making—There are two types of decision-making at home, personal and household. Household decisions affect everyone in the home; personal decisions only affect individual people. Youth voice can be shared in decision-making in many ways, including places to go together, family food, decorating, shared activities and household budgets affect the household; Eating, clothing, and bathing are personal decisions. Since young people are members of houses, everything they do can affect every other person in the house, including seemingly personal decision-making.

Feedback—Giving feedback doesn’t just happen from adults-to-children; instead, it happens from children-to-adults and children-to-children. It happens all the time too, whether or not adults are listening or even want to hear it. Youth voice can be shared in feedback given about any subject or activity at home.

Creativity—Young people are constantly creative, whether they are in their own space being personally creative or creating out loud for everyone around them to see, hear, feel, taste or touch. Creativity shows youth voice within houses in all kinds of ways, including music, painting, poetry or knitting, as well as moving furniture, making meals or other expressions.

Learning—Children and youth are teaching and learning all the time at home. The subjects and the issues they’re learning about vary, and include things unique to their home like family history, making food, and constructing walls; as well as things they share with young people around the world, like gaming and tech, creative writing or academic subjects. Young people also learn through teaching their siblings and their parents. Youth voice comes through learning in all these ways and many more.

Problem-Solving—When faced with challenges affecting the whole family, children and youth can be partners with adults in the home to solve problems. Creating opportunities for that collaboration can foster family cohesion and positive belonging for everyone involved. Youth voice can come through problem-solving at home in many ways, especially in day-to-day activities as well as long-term.

Energy—The way people in a house think and feel affects how they treat each other. This treatment sets the household tone and culture, and is a visible factor to anyone within the home. The energy of the house is reflected in the language, attitudes, beliefs and ideals within and among the people who live there.

Recreation—As young people having fun, relaxing and recreation is essential to daily living. Whether its gaming or reading, dancing or bicycling, there are many ways recreation happens. Recreation can share youth voice in many ways, including making decisions and the tone of the recreation, the choice of activities and the people who are chosen to participate.

Consumption—Household consumption is a choice everyone makes all the time, and those choices are a type of youth voice. Whether young people are consuming food, electricity or otherwise, they can make their decisions about consumption on their own, help others in the household make their choices, and partner with adults at home to choose how to consume things.

Communication—The styles of communication in a household reflect youth voice indirectly and very directly. Whether its communication between adults and children or from child-to-child all communication in a household is an expression of countless factors. These expressions can happen through spoken words and unspoken body language; actions by a person as well as inaction; and many other ways. Youth voice is shared in the ways young people express themselves; the topics and subjects expressed about; the timing of expressions; who they are expressed towards and with; and where they are expressed.

Health—Our health, including our mental, physical and spiritual realities, includes our sleep, food, exercise, surroundings, activities and much more. Youth voice is expressed through health in all ways, because ultimately every way a person treats themselves reflects their thoughts, knowledge, feelings, ideas, and wisdom.

Mindsets—Our mindset is the mental framework we approach the world with. Youth voice reflects mindsets, and mindsets reflect youth voice. Young people share their core beliefs, personal assumptions, cultural wisdom and much more through their mindsets.

These are some types of youth voice at home. What would YOU add to the list? Share your thoughts in the comment section below!

Some Questions

After we look over these types of youth voice, it’s important to think about what we’ve read. Maybe some of this is new to you, maybe it’s a reminder. Either way, we should all take action to apply our new knowledge at home as well as in our work and throughout our community. Here’s some questions to consider:

  • What difference does a household’s income, race, education, economic ability, gender identity, or religion make to youth voice?
  • Can every child and youth experience youth voice everywhere, all of the time?
  • What should adults do to open their hearts and minds to youth voice?

Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below, and forward this to your friends, colleagues and others.

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Activity: Crossing the Line

When facilitated right, “Crossing the Line” can be a powerful, interactive, and effective activity that builds diversity awareness within a group.

The goals of this activity include

  • Help participants learn about themselves;
  • Give participants an opportunity to reflect upon their self- and cultural identity;
  • Allow the community involved to appreciate its own diversity more and learn to treat each other like the diverse human beings we all are, instead of as homogenized, singular, culture-less beings.


The following are recommended instructions for Crossing the Line. This activity requires thorough facilitation, and should not be conducted carelessly or lightly.

Read over the directions closely, and ask questions in the comments section below or by contacting us. We’re also available to come to your community to facilitate Crossing the Line.

1. Time needed

About 35 minutes for the activity, and at least 45 minutes for discussion.

2. Space Set Up

Plenty of open space (All chairs to the side or out of the room)
• Note on the door (Workshop in Progress, DO NOT DISTURB!)
• Dim the lights a bit if possible.
• Facilitator should be off to the side so he is not the center of attention.

3. Publicity

Keep it open-ended. It seems fair to describe it as “a workshop where we find ways in which we are both different from and similar to each other.” Be careful about over billing the workshop.


Be careful not to draw too much attention to the facilitator; the focus should be on the exercise and the group.

1. Intro Statement

“This is a diverse organization and we have spent the last couple days exploring that diversity. In this exercise we continue exploring that diversity. Much of our earlier exercises addressed diversity that was obvious. We want to acknowledge and address those differences but also bring to the surface other differences that we may not have recognized. This process might prove difficult at first, or a bit awkward. This afternoon we want to break down stereotypes and make it easier to know one another as full human beings.”

2. Process

“I would like everyone to gather on one side of the room and face towards its center.” (Wait for everyone to move.)

“I will call out specific categories/labels/descriptions. I will ask that all those who fit this description walk to the other side of the room and turn around, facing the rest of the group.” (As an example, the facilitator names a category that only he or she would fit, and then walks to the other side of the room, and turns around.)

“After several seconds I will ask you to return to the group.”

3. Participant Guidelines

“Over the next half hour or so, we will share some of our experiences and vulnerabilities with one another. This will demand a safe atmosphere. To insure that we remain sensitive to one another’s feelings, we need to follow two critical guidelines.”

“The first involves LISTENING. Let’s have silence throughout the exercise–no talking, snickering, giggling, etc. Silence will allow all of us to participate fully. Silence will also enable us to experience our personal thoughts and feelings more clearly.”

“The second guideline is RESPECT. It is imperative that we respect the dignity of each person who is here this evening. Everything that is shared should remain confidential. Nothing that is offered should leave this room. However, if–having gone through the workshop–you truly need to talk to a particular individual about something he or she has shared, be sure you ask that person’s permission.”

“I need a nod of the head to indicate that you understand the importance of our keeping an atmosphere both silent and respectful…”

“Before we begin there are several other guidelines that we need to consider.”

NO PRESSURE. “No one here is under any pressure to respond in any particular way to any of the questions. If you have any doubts about sharing some part of yourself, you should feel perfectly comfortable with your decision not to walk across the room.”

“One final point. Each of the categories I use will have some GRAY AREAS. If you find yourself stuck in a gray area, simply define the words from your own point of view. In other words, define the terms as you yourself understand them when thinking of yourself. For example, suppose the question asks everyone who is religious to walk across the room. If you think of yourself as religious, then the word fits, regardless of whether or not someone else would use the word “religious in the same way, and regardless of other meanings the word might have. If you have serious reservations about the clarity or meaningfulness of any particular category,
then the best things to do is to not cross to the other side of the room.”

4. Facilitator Suggestions

  • Speak clearly. If the group is large, people may have trouble hearing you, and their questions will cause an interruption.
  • Don’t rush the process. Allow time for personal reflection. Don’t ask the next question too soon.
  • Have more than one reader. If possible, present varied voices for the statements below. Make sure each reader has a chance to read the statements over first, follows the suggestions here, and participates fully in the process.

Group Instructions

Before you begin, finish sharing these instructions:

  • “So that’s it for the format and the guidelines to be followed. Any questions?”
  • “If you cannot stay for the entire exercise, don’t feel comfortable with the guidelines, or simply don’t believe like the workshop is going to he beneficial for you, it’s OK to wait outside the room during the exercise.”
  • “To start, let’s try a simply category. It will help me clarify the process.”
  • “Once we begin, please, no interruptions. ONCE WE BEGIN, PLEASE DO NOT ASK ANY QUESTIONS. Often during the process you may feel like you want to say something. There will be plenty of time at the end for discussion about the process.”

1. Before You Start

Following are statements you can make in Crossing the Line. These are not the only statements you can make; however, if you modify them, you should do so before you facilitate the activity: DO NOT MAKE IT UP ON THE GO. Instead, think through why you’re asking each statement and what the intended outcome is from asking it. You can say shallow or deep statements; personal or global statements; or many other types. However, do not say mean or thoughtless statements; hateful or hurtful statements; angry or destructive statements. Think through each statement before you start and discuss it with other facilitators if possible.

2. Practice Statements

These are additional practice statements:

  • “Cross to the other side of the room if you are not from [here].
  • “Cross to the other side of the room if you feel your home is [here].”

    “Remember, all the legal and philosophical questions about “home” don’t matter. What matters is what the word “home” means to you. If you are confused or uncomfortable, the best policy is NOT to cross to the other side of the room.”

3. Statements

  • You identify as male
  • You identify as female
  • You don’t identify on the gender binary scale

“REMINDER: No talking…” Consider issuing this and other reminders as an ounce of prevention, even if a problem isn’t coming up at the moment.

  • In the past year you have been in a relationship and been hurt.
  • You feel that you have not formed a close friendship in [this program].
  • You take pride in [this program].
  • You are Catholic.
  • You are Protestant.
  • You are Jewish.
  • You are another religion.
  • You identify as an atheist or agnostic.
  • You are a person of color.
  • You know little about your cultural heritage.
  • You know a lot about your cultural heritage.
  • You wish you had more money.
  • You consider your family as working class.
  • You consider your family as middle class.
  • You consider your family as upper class. (VERY FEW WILL GO, BECAUSE THAT NOT HOW THEY THINK OF THEMSELVES, and THAT’S OK)
  • You have felt embarrassed about the economic class your family is in.

    “REMINDER: Walk across the room only when you feel comfortable identifying yourself in this way.”
  • You come from a family of four or more children you are an only child
  • You live independently of your parents.
  • You have taken primary responsibility either for raising another member of your family or caring for an elderly member of your family
  • You have low self-esteem
  • You would like to lose ten or more pounds
  • You have been to college or plan to go to college
  • You have not graduated from high school
  • You have had serious thoughts about leaving this program
  • You feel physically unattractive

    Facilitator Note: As the workshop is structured it makes one dip into the personal with the previous question. Then we back up to what is easier before making a deeper trip.
  • You consider yourself a Democrat
  • You consider yourself a Republican
  • You consider yourself a socialist
  • You consider yourself a feminist
  • Your parents have either divorced, separated, or never married
  • At least one of your parents have died
  • You feel disconnected or estranged from your parents
  • There have been times when you have seriously felt that, if you could choose, you would not choose the ethnicity into which you were born
  • You find yourself thinking about food considerably more often than you want
  • You have medical problem
  • You have a learning disability
  • You have a physical disability
  • You have questioned your sexual orientation
  • You have experienced the effects of alcoholism in your family
  • You have experienced the effects of drug addiction in your family
  • You have had a sexual experience that you regretted
  • You have experienced suicidal thoughts at some point in your life
  • You have cried at least once this year
  • You have cried at least once this year for someone or something other than yourself
  • Since you joined [this program], you have laughed at yourself at least once
  • Cross the room if you could use a hug right now. (People generally begin hugging each other during this time.)

4. Discussion Afterwards

“I want to remind the group again of the guidelines. During this discussion we must have the utmost respect. Again, no talking while others speak, no side comments, giggling, etc.

“I also want to remind people that everything spoken in this room stays in the room.”

Facilitator Note: This shouldn’t be an analysis of the activity; be careful about focusing on the merits of the workshop. If someone makes a comment about the workshop, thank them for their comment and refocus the discussion towards people’s feelings and stories.

Be careful about comments focused on others; keep participants focused on themselves and their own thoughts, feelings and other responses during the activity.

The discussion can become a group of people questioning other people why they crossed. Try to gently steer the discussion to give space for those who really feel the need to explain and tell the group something about themselves.

5. Closing Debrief

(The discussion should feel a bit confessional. If the exercise has run well, people will be very introspective and quiet.


  • “How are you feeling right now?”
  • “Is there anything you want to say to your fellow participants about why you crossed the room on a particular questions?”

Use the discussion to allow people to EXPLAIN, SHARE, AND TELL STORIES about any of the statements. Use the discussion to allow people to talk about HOW THEY FEEL right now and how they feel about the exercise.

6. Closure

End the discussion by thanking everyone for participating. You may want to describe how this workshop has affected you.

Remind everyone again that whatever was said in the room stays in the room. It is a serious breach of respect and trust if you share any of this with anyone outside this room. If you feel like you need to speak with an individual about something he or she said, please ask them first.

Origins: This workshop originally came from presentations done at Stanford University around 1985 by Isoki Femi and Linda Gonzales csp). This is a modified version based on an outline from Dennis Matthies, Center for Teaching and Learning, Stanford University.

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How Youth Become Adult Allies

How Youth Become Adult Allies

Cynicism eats at the hearts of adults. With media and politicians relying on negative feelings towards youth, many adults have stopped seeing youth as the future. Instead, they view young people as lazy, hostile, apathetic and incapable. Luckily, there is another way to be.

When youth become adults, they have the potential to become allies to youth. Whether they are young adults, parents or elders, all adults can become adult allies to young people.

“I tell my students, ‘When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else. This is not just a grab-bag candy game.'”

—Toni Morrison

How Youth Become Adult Allies

When youth age out or transition from youth programs into adulthood, they can be some of the most powerful adult allies in our communities. Here are ways youth can become adult allies:

  1. Reflect. Looking at their experiences as youth program participants, community members, or the subjects of different activities, adults should acknowledge who they were as youth, how they were involved, what they did, where they were and why they were involved.
  2. Learn. Exploring different activities and issues affecting youth and communities today, adults should learn about what matters most to young people today.
  3. Engage. Find opportunities to interact, connect, expand, appropriately deepen and meaningfully sustain your engagement with young people. This means asking young people what matters most to them, empowering them to make change, connecting them to resources and sustaining your support.
  4. Advocate. Position young people to advocate for themselves, and when they can’t you should advocate for them. In adult-only spaces, work to transform them to bring youth into planning, research, decision-making, evaluation and advocacy.
  5. Sustain. Do everything within your power to sustain your interest and commitment to engaging youth throughout their own lives, our communities, democracy and social change.

Becoming an adult ally isn’t something that just happens one time. Instead it takes commitment and re-commitment and a sustained interested in personal engagement and social transformation.

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Elsewhere Online

Spectrum of Youth Action

Freechild Institute Spectrum of Youth Action,
This is the Spectrum of Youth Action from the Freechild Institute.

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:

  1. Youth Voice⁠ is any expression of any young person anywhere, anytime, for any reason. Learn more »
  2. Youth Involvement⁠ is the systematic placement of young people to affect, drive, or take action within an activity, organization or community. Learn more »
  3. Youth Engagement⁠ is when youth choose the same thing over and over. Learn more »
  4. Youth Empowerment⁠ is when young people take charge of their lives, actions and surroundings. Learn more »
  5. 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.

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Adultism in the Law

Terms related to adultism

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.

  1. Invite policymakers to 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!
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Draft a petition or sign-on letter to express views about adultism and recruit youth and/or adults to sign on.
  7. Organize a rally, town hall or press conference to build public awareness about adultism and to hold policymakers accountable.
  8. 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.
  9. Participate in a town hall and ask your elected officials questions about their position on adultism overall and in specific laws.
  10. Encourage citizens to vote (through nonpartisan voter mobilization efforts).
  11. Submit comments or feedback on policies affecting children and youth as they are being developed.
  12. 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!

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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 face adultism in your community or organization, contact us.