Principles of Authentic Youth Voice

The Freechild Project Youth Voice

Whenever young people say that an activity is particularly powerful or meaningful for them there is a set of conditions present. These conditions can feel difficult to pin down, especially when adults are too busy or too inexperienced to identify them. The following Principles were devised after I spent several months working with a group of youth at a public high school in New York City.

Authentic Youth Voice is…

  • Collective – Activities are led by youth and adults together – not individually
  • Connected  Activities embody interdependence and model it among youth and adults
  • Empowering – Youth voice is a driving force throughout activities
  • Equitable – Adults recognize young people have differing backgrounds that require different approaches
  • Focused – Activities are appropriately outcome-driven
  • Healthy – Respectful disagreement, speaking up, and other avenues that equalize disparities between youth and adults are at the core of the activity
  • Learning – Young people gain skills, knowledge and tools to be effect agents of change
  • Mutually Beneficial – Young people and adults acknowledge each other’s dreams, actions, outcomes and reflections
  • Relevant – Activities are responsive to the lives of young people
  • Responsible – Adults and youth develop and sustain their capacity to be “response-able”
  • Substantive – Activity design and outcomes are designed to impact individuals, organizations, communities and society
  • Self-Motivated – Young people feel driven to participate


Providing these guidelines or devising their own can become an essential function of any youth group or youth-serving organization that seeks to engage young people in social change. These Principles can serve as a guide for the development of new programs and the evaluation of current activities.


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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 support youth voice in your community or organization, contact us.

By Adam Fletcher

Adam is a co-founder and longtime leader of Freechild. He has spoke at conferences, written publications, taught people, and consulted organizations about youth voice, youth engagement, youth-led social change, youth/adult partnerships and more. Learn more about him at

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