Traits of Adult Allies

Seattle students in a Freechild workshop discuss issues with an adult ally

There are a lot of adults who want to make a difference in the world by becoming an adult ally to young people. However, many get frustrated because they don’t know what it takes. This article is about the traits of adult allies.

After more than a 20 years of teaching people around the world how to do it, I’ve developed the following list of what adults need to have within them in order to be an adult ally. This list is grounded in my experience talking with thousands of young people about what matters most to them. I also pulled from a variety of research and proved these traits in the fires of more than 50 projects over the years. The following traits make the difference between adults who talk about being adult allies and those who are actually adult allies.

These traits of adult allies determine what we can do, who we can be, and where we are with young people. If it helps you understand them better, think of this as a list of capacities, skills, dispositions and abilities.

Please leave your questions, comments, concerns, considerations and critiques at the bottom.

Traits of Adult Allies

  1. Change Management—Adult allies can successfully move young people, adults, leadership, and constituents through transitions and times of change.
  2. Humility—Adults develop and maintain a modest view of their own importance in public and personal perspectives regarding our efforts. Learn more about adults being humble »
  3. Collaboration & Teamwork—Adult allies build and sustain the necessary group and cross-group cohesion and operations needed to maintain success.
  4. Learner Mind: Adult allies work to S-T-R-E-T-C-H themselves both personally and professionally. Learn more about adults with learner mind »
  5. Conflict Management—Adult allies identify and successfully navigate conflicts and problems with youth as partners from an operational, day-to-day perspective as well as in the big picture.
  6. Transparency: Adult allies are open and honest with young people. They are appropriately available and vulnerable with children and youth, and work to create strong relationships built on trust and courage. Adult allies foster strong and appropriate relationships with young people to accomplish so much more than adults can on their own, and recognize that it’s not easy getting there! Striving to always act with integrity, be compassionate and loyal, and try to be a good listener. At the end of the day it’s not what we say or do, but how we make people feel that matters the most. We care about others, both personally and professionally. Peeling away the layers, we work to be open.
  7. Passion: What keeps us going? It’s passion for engaging people. We’re inspired because we believe in what we are doing and where we’re going – even when we don’t know where that is! We don’t take “that’ll never work” for an answer. A lot of people tell me that the Engagement Revolution will never happen; imagine if we had listened to them so far! We have positive and optimistic attitudes because we have open eyes and are inspired by everyone around us. We are passionate.
  8. Decision-Making—We discern how, when, where, and why to make decisions, and how to help others make decisions, both on a micro- and meta-level scale.
  9. Community: We want to build community, not just colleagues. We serve children, youth, adults, and organizations by removing obstacles and enabling people to succeed on their own terms. The best decisions and ideas are made by people who take action, and we want to foster action among people. We collaborate with people and organizations to address the challenges in their worlds. Beyond that, we watch out for our community and care for others. We work together and play together with our community because our bonds go beyond the typical consultant/coach/trainer/speaker relationship. We work to build community.
  10. Diversity & Cultural Competency—We acknowledge, embrace, and enable all sorts of differences as powerful motivators and assets.
  11. Amazement: We seek amazement in this work, and we seek to amaze others when it happens. To amaze, we differentiate myself by doing things in an unconventional and innovative way. We go above and beyond the average level of action to create an emotional impact on people and organizations and to give them a positive story they can take with them the rest of their lives. We seek to amaze.
  12. Coaching—We guide, transition, and mentor others through their daily professional and personal challenges without attempting to teach or lead them.
  13. Boldness: We are bold and try not to be reckless. We aren’t afraid to make mistakes because that’s one way we learn. We take appropriate risks and we encourage others to take risks too, and we use risks to make better decisions. We believe gut feelings, and we know everyone can develop gut feelings about decisions as long as they are open to new ideas and can allow failure to happen.
  14. Motivating & Empowering—We constantly seek to engage others in consistent, substantive, and sustainable ways that are motivating, empowering and sustainable.
  15. Drivenness: We constantly change and embrace it with open arms. We never accept status quo and I’m always thinking of ways to change processes, perspectives, and opinions, hopefully for the better. Without change, we can’t continue to be useful to myself or other people. We are driven.
  16. Personal &  Professional Goal Development—We recognize our own goals and their relevance to our position, as well as help others do the same.
  17. Open-Heartedness: Help is a key word for us. We offer it and ask for it often. Often, we can’t do everything required in a project, so in a large part, part of our livelihood is helping others do their projects successfully. We are not expected to know all the answers, but we know where we can go to find them, and we share that with others. We help myself help others.
  18. Knowledge Management—Using diverse ways of identifying, developing, sharing, and effectively using the knowledge of communities, we work to expand the knowledge of individuals and organizations.
  19. Humor: We have a sense of humor, and we know it’s good to laugh at ourselves frequently. Living shouldn’t be drudgery or toil. We have fun and can be goofy even when there’s work to get done, and we get lots done. Being a little goofy requires being a little innovative, and we are always looking for a chance to fully engage in life by bringing out the fun and goofy side of it.
  20. Problem-Solving—We effectively, consistently and realistically identify, address, critique, and re-imagine challenges.
  21. Action Orientation: We avoid the risk of not trying and the regret of wishing we had done something. When we were young, we knew that it would be far more haunting to live with the regret of having not followed our instincts than to have followed our gut and failed. We have lived in action and done risky things. We see our ideas when we have them and make note of them. That’s why we always have a notepad. If we think an idea is compelling, we go after it. We live life only once, and we all die too soon. We always try. We take action.
  22. Training & Facilitation—We successfully identify and meet the needs of people through group training and individual learning.
  23. Simplicity: More and more, we realize the power of simplicity. Since we are in the business of ideas in action, we want to share them as effectively as we can in our complex world. We do that by being simple. It takes more mental space for me to create something simple or communicate something complicated in basic terms, but ultimately, that’s what people want. We don’t need to explain everything the first time around. WE need to facilitate the best tailored learning experience ourselves and our organization or community. We always need to break down knowledge into easily digestible, clear statements and actions. We work hard for simplicity.
  24. Listening: Engaging with young people in meaningful ways starts with listening to youth voice. This means not interpreting, translating or bastardizing youth voice; it means taking action, reflecting, and authorizing youth voice. Learn more about listening to young people »
  25. Release: We have to release everything we do when it’s done, and just let it go. Instead of trying to figure it out, we just let it be and accept that it is what it is, nothing more or less. It doesn’t determine our worth, others don’t validate our choices, and our contributions never go unnoticed, even if it seems like it. We release what we do when it’s done.
  26. Personal Engagement: We foster our own connection to the work you’re doing, maintain that connection, and sustain the relevance of the work you’re doing throughout our own life, as well as help others do the same.
  27. Focus: We work to transform the lives of youth, no matter what I’m doing. We do not look for fame or fortune, and we reject greed and deceit. Instead, we constantly look for opportunities to serve others, and we share our energy and efforts as often as we can. We see the ripple effect in everything we do, not just the flashy or huge things. If we don’t see the ripples, we trust the waves work. We know every action in our lives sets off an entire cascade of responses whose overall impact is huge, and we know this is true for others, too. We are focused.
  28. Compassion—We develop our ability to establish and foster empathy with people and places outside of our own personal or professional sphere.
  29. Listening: We speak by listening. Instead of rushing to come up with a quick reaction to what someone has said or done, we listen to them. When the time is right, we respond with knowledge. When we were younger, we assumed that the world was more interested in us than we were in it, so we spent most of our time talking. We were generally under-informed, we shared whatever we thought, we tried to be clever, and we thought about what we were going to say instead of listening to what someone else was saying to me. We have learned to slow ourselves down and engage rather than debate. We take time to really listen to what people say, and we try to learn from everything we hear. We listen to people.
  30. Systems Thinking—We see how small things that seem separated can create big things through complicated interactions.
  31. Facilitation: We provide appropriate support to learners. We do not train people, because we don’t do tricks or routine work. Instead, we adapt and contrast, modify and transform. We encourage learners through questions and activities that build confidence, stretch understanding, and foster engagement in learning. We facilitate learning.
  32. Deliberation: We regularly stop to check our intentions and affirm our actions, so that what I’m doing actually reflects who we are. If I’m not aware of why we do what we do, we are disconnected from what matters to me. If I’m disconnected, I’m ineffective. Staying aware of our intentions and being deliberate allows me to guide our work with purpose, and challenge myself when its time. We are deliberate.
  33. Challenge: When a we get too attached to the way things are, we lose the the greatest freedom of all: the freedom to fail. Without feeling like a failure, we don’t have to assume that a slight misstep is a deep plunge into the abyss. Instead, we step forward to challenges and see them each as an opportunity to innovate using a smart idea or strategic thinking. When I’m stepping up to challenges, we accept that failure is going to happen while I’m growing. Ultimately, we won’t become a better person because of how we respond to success, but instead, what we do with failure. We accept the challenge.
  34. Mindfulness: Adult allies strive to develop and maintain the constant conscious awareness and acceptance of our imperfections and inabilities, as well as our abilities and responsibilities to the young people, families and communities we strive to serve.

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

Listening to Young People

Freechild Project Youth Engagement Practitioners Cadre

In order to be adult allies, adults have to learn to listen to children and listen to youth. Listening can be simple, painless and easy; it can also be complex, painful and hard. Either way, adults have to learn to listen to young people in order to get past just hearing what they said. This is how adult allies listen to young people.

This graphic shows how to listen to others by Adam Fletcher
This graphic shares how to listen to others. It is copyright 2019 Adam Fletcher

This is how to listen to young people:

  • Open my heart and mind to children and youth
  • Release my assumptions about young people and their interests and abilities to speak for themselves
  • Make space for children and youth to speak for themselves
  • Be quiet and listen to young people
  • Ensure opportunities for children and youth to speak for themselves always
  • Continue always to stay mindful about my voice, my listening and my actions that affect young people
  • Constantly be aware of my conscious and unconscious impact on children and youth
  • Step aside so young people speak for themselves
  • Advocate for children and youth to always speak for themselves
  • When they are absent, speak for young people who cannot speak for themselves
  • Constantly and deliberately build my ability and the ability of other adults to listen to children and youth
  • Intentionally and deliberate move from listening to validating; validating to authorizing; authorizing to action; action to reflection; and reflection to listening again.

This isn’t meant to be completely comprehensive; instead, its intended to hold space for adults who want to learn what they can do for themselves and young people in order to build their ability to listen to children and youth.

What would you add? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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How Organizations Can Foster Youth Engagement

Freechild Project adult ally teaching youth media making skills

For almost 20 years, the Freechild Institute has been training and consulting youth-serving organizations about youth + social change, including youth engagement and youth voice. We have learned a lot, including how organizations can engage youth.

Steps to Foster Systems for Youth Engagement

This graphic shows some of the elements, types and functions of systems for youth engagement throughout our society.

Here are the steps to transform and sustain organizational youth engagement.

1. Name a Youth + Social Change Director.

Every organization committed to youth + social change should have a youth engagement director. This individual should be or become an expert on youth engagement, youth voice and young + social change who is dedicated to the continued strengthening of their organization’s youth engagement training, programs and policies. 

2. Identify Champions for Youth + Social Change.

Freechild designates every youth-serving adult in our projects and activities as champions for youth + social change. After they are trained in youth + social change, they are expected to implement youth engagement approaches, strategies, policies, programs, training, assessment and communications.

3. Build Youth Organizations.

All aspects of organizations and programs fostering youth + social change should engage young people directly. Youth are encouraged to attend all organizational activities, including decision-making and leadership activities, fundraising, evaluation and grant-reporting activities, and more. Nothing about youth without youth is for youth, and everything within youth-serving organizations should be for youth. Do not tokenize, do not minimize and do not limit; instead, open doors, build capacity and sustain involvement. Develop strategic plans, name practical objectives, develop genuine goals, and route deliberate activities to get there. Assign real money, real people and pragmatic resources to get it done. Build your organizations and programs.

4. Evolve the Abilities of Youth.

The knowledge, skills and abilities of young people are always evolving, expanding and becoming bigger, brighter and more capable than ever before. This is youth + social change happening, in real time! Within youth-serving organizations, the ways we teach, train, work with and work for young people need to reflect this evolution. We need to expand our capacities by expanding their capacities, and continue to evolve, develop, criticize and redevelop our programs and activities in ways that reflect these evolving capacities of young people. Seeing and treating youth as individuals and as members, not beneficiaries, is essential to this. Of course, its also essential to see young people as resources to engage, not problems to be solved. This happens in formal and informal ways, and the importance of this should never be minimized or limited.

5. Evolve the Abilities of Adults.

In almost all of our well-meaning organizations, we rely on young people seeing adults as resources for themselves. Assuming that simply showing up is enough to gain their trust and earn their respect, in times past we might have just did the intake and called it good. Right now, we need to evolve the abilities of adults to foster youth + social change because youth today are unlike any generation of youth ever before. Intentionally teach adults how to engage young people in social change in the specific environments, cultures and communities where they are working. Directly build the abilities of adults how to sustain the interest and change the world with youth as partners, everywhere, all of the time.

6. Fight Adultism Actively.

Safeguard against adultism in everything you do, everywhere, all the time. Don’t just fight it, don’t just challenge, but create purposeful processes, procedures and ways to actually prevent adultism from happening. All adults must respect all young people in every way without discriminating against them. Every young person needs to learn what adultism is, how it affects them and how they can stop it.

7. Establish the Rule of Two.

The rule of two is that every school, nonprofit, government program and other activity in every community needs to assign and ensure that every young person is directly, consistently and meaningfully connected to at least one adult within their activities. Freechild also calls this Mutual Mentorship, meaning that the rule of two actively breaks down the typical hierarchal command and control youth work relationship and replaces it with learning opportunities for youth and adults together, as partners and allies. Within these relationships, youth + social change needs to be made obvious and overt, and needs to be diligently and substantially maintained in any form, whether in-person or online.

8. Report, Respond, Celebrate and Criticize.

Within every any activity fostering youth + social change, policies need to assure accountability from adults to young people and the organization to the broader community through prompt reporting, practical responses, obvious celebrations and open critical thinking about any youth-serving program. The intention here is to establish, maintain and sustain a mutual space for interactive, applicable democratic action and ideas for young people and adults to participate in, learn from, built open and share with the world they live in every day.

Sustaining Youth + Social Change

This is a graphic of the Freechild Institute youth engagement mapping tool.
This is a graphic of the Freechild Institute youth engagement mapping tool.

The abilities of organizations to sustain youth + social change is directly connected to how well they foster and support young people. While its essential to engage adults in meaningful ways, when youth + social change happens young people are the focus in powerful, positive and meaningful ways throughout. However, the ultimate starting point is to plan from the end you want to see. So begin by planning for youth + social change, and plan backwards to the point where you’re at right now. The old adage is true: “The past is history, the future is a mystery, but today is a gift and that’s why its called the present.”

Be where you’re at and do what you can do.

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Youth Engagement in Government Agencies

The Freechild Project Strategies for Youth to Change the World

The Freechild Institute supports youth engagement in government services. Our services include program planning, professional development, coaching services, project evaluation and more. We have also created a number of resources that may be valuable to government agencies.

  • Youth Engagement Mapping—This self-guided process can examine current and potential youth engagement by identifying data, processes and other avenues.
  • Citywide Youth Engagement Strategies—Working alongside city-level agencies, Freechild Institute assists with developing citywide youth engagement strategies.
  • Youth and Government—This resource page identifies current practices to foster youth engagement in governance and shares potential ways to expand on those activities.
  • Understanding Roles for Youth in Community Development—This short reflection explores opportunities for youth in community development, along with concerns about what is happening, and possibilities for what could happen.
  • Strategic Youth Mainstreaming—Freechild has adapted this European approach to youth engagement that focuses on popularizing youth engagement to the broadest extent by removing barriers and more.

For more information about our services supporting youth engagement in government, contact us now.

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Understanding Roles for Youth in Community Development

This week I’ve had the honor of participating in a Thinkery in London with the Community Development Journal, an international academic publication produced by the Oxford University Press. Along with providing a keynote address to provoke conversation and growth in the field, I’ve sat in on three days of meetings with their international advisory board. I want to share some of what I’ve learned over this time, and share the ways I see community development intersecting with youth-led action around the world.

Opportunities and Avenues

Community development is a vague, overarching concept that attempts to group together any attempts by groups of people who work together to transform the places and spaces they live, work and play. Concerned with justice, equity and transformation, community development includes structured government and nonprofit programs; grassroots social justice activism, and; much more. People working together to transform the economy, education, culture, housing, healthcare, public health and many other issues are included under the umbrella of community development.

Youth have been the subjects of community development, participants in community development and critics of community development for more than 25 years. Internationally, youth have built movements, established conversations and spread the intentions and possibilities of community development, especially in the last decade. These include the 99% movement, the Arab Spring, Black Lives Matter, #metoo and other actions.

Concerns and Challenges

Adultism⁠—bias towards adults that discriminates against youth⁠—appears predominate throughout community development. Attitudes reflecting adultism drive the agendas, goals, activities and outcomes of community development worldwide. In turn though, adultism is routinely dismissed by practitioners and researchers who are dismissive of the roles of children and youth in their work.

Young people are concerned about the appropriation of community development, too, especially as its been overwhelmed by neoliberal goals that diminish or simply take away the radical heart of community development. The critical consciousness necessary to maintain this commitment needs regular reinforcement and encouragement. Rather than being holistic, many actions are interested only in parts of youth and/or their communities, unconsciously perpetuating the neoliberal concept of youth as marginally useful instead of being central to community development.

Concerns affecting youth and community development include questions of engaging diverse youth and communities; generating fiscal sustainability; training, educating and otherwise building the movement, and; ensuring the relevance of youth-led action.

Similarly, many young people are engaged in specific issues in community development only because of the beneficence of adults who are well-meaning but poorly informed. Driven by the limited funding and the specific interests of adult-driven forces, youth are forced to concentrate on adult interests who inadvertently act as the puppets of organizations and agendas that are formed without their interests in mind.


The radical possibilities of community development reflect the broadest, deepest and greatest potentialities of the field overall. Engaging youth as equitable partners might be the best possibility to actualize a lot of theoretical conversations about diversity and nontraditional engagement. Focusing on the many avenues for engagement identified by the Freechild Institute, community development advocates, organizers and participatory researchers can move beyond the suspected and routinely disproven limitations of youth to build the capacities, possibilities and hopes throughout the field.

Most important, there is hope and perhaps that’s what we need to focus on most. For information, training and more contact the Freechild Institute today.

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Don’t Mimic The Monster: Engage Everyone

You know the state of the world today. We say we’re going to engage the masses, but fail miserably. We want to retain everyone, but they still don’t show up or quickly drop out. We want to connect everyone, but everyone says or acts too busy. We want to empower people, but still they stare at their phones and dance to pop music.

Does that make them bad or wrong? Does that mean they are lost causes? Do we have to leave them behind and simply move ahead? I believe the answer is no.

Freechild Project youth in São Paulo, Brazil.
Youth in São Paulo, Brasil, working to change the world in positive ways.

What’s the Monster?

We’re struggling to defeat a beast.

The monsters of apathy, disregard, disconnection and disgust have led our society around for hundreds of years. They’ve forced friend against friend, neighbor against neighbor, and family member against family member.

The way things were are over now and we’re moving ahead. In the past…

  • Education systems routinely left behind students who weren’t learning the ways they were being taught.
  • Social services stopped supporting people who apparently refused to support themselves.
  • Neighbors on the block quit knocking on the door of the old house where nobody ever answered.
  • Customers were seen solely as consumers who simply pick a color and pay on their way out the door.
  • The legal system stopped trying to work with people who resisted their authority and started punishing them instead.
  • Politicians were allowed to make decisions on a hierarchy of financial impact, as if that was the prime and sole relevant determinant of value, purpose and belonging.


When we leave behind the young people and adults who don’t come along with our agendas we are simply perpetuating those systems, actions and beliefs.

Sometimes, life situations cause us to become the monster so the monster doesn’t break us. When we settle for engaging some people instead of everyone, everywhere, all the time, we’re mimicking the monster. We might believe we’re not the monster, whether that’s formal systems, “the Man,” or social trends. Unfortunately, we might be by accident.

A lot of us are following Einstein’s formula for insanity by doing the same things we’ve always done and expecting different results. Just because we dress up ugly programs with fancy words and phrases or storm the same meetings and conferences with radical new ideas that have no actions behind them doesn’t mean we’re changing anything.

Arizona youth teaching Freechild's Adam Fletcher how to change the world. Photo by Slingshot Photography.
Arizona youth teaching Freechild’s Adam Fletcher how to change the world. Photo by Slingshot Photography.

Quiz: Are You Mimicking the Monster?

If this bothers you or sounds a little too close to home, I want you – I implore you – to ask yourself:

  • Is my shiny new engagement project just like traditional leadership programs that benefit the few instead of the masses?
  • Does the group of people I’m leading look, talk, act or think just like me?
  • Can my school or organization do more to engage more people, but just not know how to do it?
  • Is there a possibility that I’m causing things to continue existing like they always have instead of creating new possibilities for different realities?

If you answered “yes” to any of those questions, I want to congratulate you. Its hard getting honest about our inadequacies, and if you said yes to any of those, you’re acknowledging that you or your organization has been inadequate in engaging diverse and broad numbers of people.

If you didn’t answer “yes” to any of those questions, then you can rest securely today knowing you’re doing all right.

Mimicking the monster can be a self-protective measure designed to help you feel better about yourself and the effort you’re putting into changing the world. However, feeling better about yourself isn’t a new thing for the world; and the world needs new ways of being, not more of the same.

The new ways of being can include…

  • INNOVATION: Understanding that “a new world is possible” is a practical, plausible way of planning programs, and without that as a guiding idea we’re likely continuing to harbor the past in the cracks and crevices of our activities, attitudes and outcomes;
  • CAPACITY: Generating bold, assertive and intentional outcomes that satisfy goals without compromising democracy, education, community  or interdependence along the way;
  • UNITY: Creating new ways of doing things that bring people together, build on both/and approaches rather than supporting either/or mentalities, and create new pathways that rebel against dominant culture;
  • ENGAGEMENT: The old way of being focused on seeing people as the passive recipients of decisions made by others for them. The new ways of being compel everyone to see everyone else as an active partner throughout their own lives, to the point of self-exhaustion and community completion, and yet striving forward from there, too.

Adult allies of youth explore what they need to learn for themselves.
Adult allies of youth explore what they need to learn for themselves.

Breaking the Monster

Right now, we’re moving beyond the past and into the future by creating new human technologies that engage vastly new people in dynamic ways to foster broad, bold new outcomes for the future.

We have to create new responses that acknowledge the differences, resistances and separations between “us,” the people trying to catalyze transformation, and “them,” the people who we want to engage in our efforts. If we don’t do that, we’re not actually transforming anything; we’re just giving the old ways of doing things permission to continue and even causing that old way of doing things.

If all of that looks good to you and if you want to move forward, then I would suggest you discover what you can do in communities and schools. If you immediately think of barriers and limitations, I would suggest you check out this and this. If you want to know what’s available for you to DO SOMETHING in these ways, check this out. If you want to talk about it, reply to this or get in touch.

This isn’t inevitable, but it’s also not elusive. The transformation of our society is underway right now, and has been. Let’s move ahead together!


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Youth + Social Change through Youth Forums

Freechild Project youth and adult workshop participants

Placing youth voice at the center of social change, Youth Forums can provide an engaging, empowering way to develop consensus, discuss issues and build community among youth in a community. As a structured, purposeful event, Youth Forums are meant to give youth an opportunity to express their ideas, opinions, and needs to adults or other youth. Youth Forums can be youth-led or adult-led; because the purpose of Youth Forums is to engage youth voice, young people should be prepared to share it. Rather than all talking, multiple engagement styles should be used. Youth don’t need permission to share youth voice or change the world—Youth Forums just make it easier for them to do both.

Key Questions

Before you launch a Youth Forum, there are many roles to understand.

Organizational Roles

  • What is your objective for hasting a Youth Forum?
  • What resources is your organization willing to commit to your Youth Forum, including staff, financial resources and expertise?
  • What other organizations are willing or necessary to co-host this Youth Forum?
  • What will the follow-up to the Youth Forum be? How will youth continue to be engaged?

Youth Roles

  • How will youth be involved in planning and facilitating the Youth Forum?
  • What experience does your organization have facilitating Youth Forums?
  • Do you currently work with youth? Will you need to recruit youth to co-lead the Youth Forum?

Adult Roles

  • What are the roles of adults in planning and facilitating the Youth Forum?
  • How will adults be trained in youth voice?
  • When will adults speak up and when will they listen?

Shared Action

  • Who decides the topics and breadth of the Youth Forum conversations?
  • What committees are needed to implement the Youth Forum?
  • Who will direct whom in accomplishing the various activities?
  • Where is the central location for your meetings and work?
  • How and how often will committees communicate?


  • What age group do you want to attend?
  • If you want mixed ages to attend…
    • How will you ensure the majority of attendees are youth?
    • How will you ensure youth are heard foremost at your Youth Forum?
    • How will you ensure adults will not sit on the outside and look in, creating uncomfortable fishbowls?
  • How many people do you want to attend? Number of youth? Adults?
  • How will you recruit and support diverse youth attendance? Where will these youth come from, including geographic areas, different races and gender identities, socio-economic levels, educational attainment and varying leadership tendencies?


  • Who will develop the agenda?
  • What will the length of the Youth Forum be?
  • What is the format for the learning opportunities at the Youth Forum?
  • What role will adults play at the Youth Forum? How will they differ from the roles of youth?
  • Will there be speakers at the Youth Forum? Who?
  • Will there be facilitators? Who? Where will they come from?
  • Who will train the youth facilitators and/or the adult facilitators?


  • Where and when will the Youth Forum be held?
  • Will you provide snacks, drink and/or meals? Where will they come from?
  • Will you be doing anything that requires addressing liability issues or have permission slips?
  • Will there be a registration fee for the Youth Forum? If so, how will you include youth without money to pay that fee?
  • Will there be a pre-registration or on-site registration?
  • Will the Youth Forum need its own logo?


  • How will you publicize the Youth Forum?
  • What media sources need to be contacted?
  • What other key contacts need to be made in the community to assist you with publicity?

Evaluation, Celebration and Distribution

  • How will the Youth Forum be evaluated?
  • If youth evaluators assess the event, who develops the evaluation?
  • What kind of response do you want from youth attendees? From adult attendees?
  • What kind of response do you want from youth facilitators? From adult facilitators?
  • What will make this Youth Forum a success?
  • Will another Youth Forum be held in the future?
  • How will you keep up the motivation?
  • What will you do with the outcomes, both good and challenging?

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Share your thoughts in the comments below! For more information about how Freechild Institute can support youth + social change through Youth Forums in your community or organization, contact us.

Structural Adultism

Freechild Project youth at a summer camp in Seattle

Structural adultism may be apparent in any instance of systemic bias where formalized limitations or demands are placed on people simply because of their young age. These limitations are often reinforced through physical force or police actions.

Adultism informs our society’s conception of adulthood through our cultures, structures, and attitudes.

This is increasingly seen as a form of gerontocracy, explained by James Carville when he wrote,

“This is not class warfare, this is generational warfare. This administration and old wealthy people have declared war on young people. That is the real war that is going on here. And that is the war we’ve got to talk about.”

From every report I have read, structural adultism rages across our communities, and includes banks, courts, police, schools, nonprofits, churches, mosques, synagogues, and all levels of governments. I would summarize the effects of structural adultism as:

  • Compulsory education
  • Access to contraceptives
  • Legalized corporal punishment
  • Curfew laws
  • Anti-youth loitering policies
  • Criminalization and demonization of youth via media
  • Voting age
  • Age of candidacy
  • Access to healthcare
  • Typecasting of youth by police
  • The Draft

Total institutions, which are the organizations in our society which dominate the entire being of a person, include the military, prisons, schools, and hospitals. Young people are affected by total institutions more than any other social group.

Ultimately, the normalization and legitimization of historical, cultural, structural and interpersonal dynamics that routinely advantage adults while producing cumulative and chronic adverse outcomes for young people is best summarized as structural adultism.

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Order FACING ADULTISM by Freechild founder Adam Fletcher at
Order FACING ADULTISM by Freechild founder Adam Fletcher!

Adam F. C. Fletcher

The Freechild Project founder Adam Fletcher in Marin County, California in 2016.

Adam F. C. Fletcher co-founded The Freechild Project with a group of youth advocates from around the world in September 2001. The mission then, as now, is to advocate, inform, and celebrate social change led by and with young people around the world, especially those who have been historically denied the right to participate. Adam has continued to lead Freechild since then, fostering the visionary goal of re-envisioning the roles of young people throughout society.

Today, Adam is an internationally recognized expert in youth engagement. As a consultant, public speaker, and writer, he works with nonprofits, government agencies and K-12 schools to support youth, teachers, youth workers, social workers, leaders and others as they work together to change the world. Among the organizations who have recently worked with him are the King County Superior Courts (Seattle), Seattle Seahawks, the Alberta Ministry of Education, the American Institutes of Research, the Human Service Coalition of Miami/Dade County, and the Vermont Principal’s Association.

As a contractor for local, state, and national organizations, Adam has helped create more than 100 projects focused on engaging young people. He has also published more than 50 of his own books, developed three internationally respected websites, and spoke at more than 500 conferences worldwide.

Learn about Adam’s work, book him for speeches, or find out what he can do for you by calling him at (360) 489-9680. You can learn more about him at

Youth and Government

Freechild Project youth in New Hampshire

Democracy demands active, involved and engaged citizens taking almost-constant action to make societies better places. Counting as more than 25% of the human population, children and youth are routinely, consistently and constantly left out of governments at all levels today. However, growing numbers of local, state, national and international government bodies are engaging young people. Bringing together youth and government can transform societies and change the world in countless ways.

“Words like ”freedom,’ ‘justice,’ ‘democracy” are not common concepts; on the contrary, they are rare. People are not born knowing what these are. It takes enormous and, above all, individual effort to arrive at the respect for other people that these words imply.”— James Baldwin


Ways Youth can Change the World through the Government

Youth as Policy-Makers — Empowering young people to participate as full-fledged policy-makers includes providing educating nontraditional youth leaders, providing substantive opportunities for action, and training adults as allies throughout the process. Through meaningful youth involvement, young people can transform systems, empower communities and infuse adult-driven institutions with youth power.

Community Youth Development — When young people are systemically involved throughout their communities, applying powerful skills and knowledge along the way, they can shift governments into action and encourage powerful transformation. Community youth development can also build the capacities of children and youth, their peers, families and others to change the world, too!

Service Learning — Combining meaningful service with real classroom learning goals can give students substantive opportunities to improve government services, engage more people in democratic processes, and ensure people stay informed and empowered through action. Service learning can teach students vital knowledge and build their skills to change the world. When infused in government, it can be more real than ever!


The Practice of Youth Engagement by Adam Fletcher!
The Practice of Youth Engagement by Adam Fletcher!


Things Youth Need to Change the World through the Government

Opportunities — There must be substantial and inclusive opportunities for young people of all ages to affect governance. This can happen at the neighborhood level through community associations; at the village, town or city level by getting youth on board, creating positions for youth as city council members, or lowering the local voting age; at the county and parish level by creating youth action boards and lowering the voting age; at the state and provincial levels in many ways, including youth as staff and youth empowerment activities; and on the federal and international levels. These must be fully empowered, fully trained and focused on youth mainstreaming.

Training — Young people need high quality, practical training on the ways government operates, what difference it makes and why it matters to be involved. Focused on skill development, training can include communication, problem-solving, and critical thinking. Emphasizing knowledge-sharing, training can focus on democratic purpose, government functions and interacting with the public.

Inspiration — Young people need to know what government is, what government does and most importantly, how government operates. Without pedantic traditional classroom teaching styles, they should learn function, purpose, operation and outcomes, as well as how to successfully advocate for what matters most to them, their families and their communities.


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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 support youth engagement in government in your community or organization, contact us.