Youth + Social Change through Youth-Led Activism 

Freechild Project youth protest in Seattle

An approach that intentionally trains young people in community organizing and advocacy, youth-led activism also assists children and youth in putting these skills to action in order to alter power relations and create meaningful change throughout their communities. Through youth-led organizing, young people can employ activities such as political education and analysis, community research, campaign development, direct action, critical thinking and membership recruitment.

How Youth Youth + Social Change Happens Through Youth-Led Activism

Youth-Led Protests — When young people can’t find adult allies, when the organizations and communities they are part of deny youth voice, and when society doesn’t budge, protest might be the most viable option. Youth-led protests can be the most powerful option children and youth have to transform society. There are countless protest activities, including sit-ins, picketing, #hashtags, walkouts, sit-ins, and more.

Youth-Led Media — Instead of allowing media to paint pictures of youth and their communities however they want to, young people can take up the mantle of journalism and truth-telling to share their own stories. Youth-led media can give children and youth a clear, concise voice to reach beyond their friends into the hearts of communities, cities, nations and the world.

Mutual Mentoring — Sometimes, simply acknowledging an adult as an ally isn’t enough. Mutual mentoring allows children and youth to be in empathetic, appropriately equitable relationships with adults. In these relationships, young people and adults are empowered to teach one another, support each other and build healthy, meaningful opportunities to grow together.

Tools for Youth + Social Change through Youth-Led Activism

Education — Simply becoming engaged in an issue is the first step towards youth-led activism. However, learning about the politics, economics and social effects of issues being protested are key, too. Youth activists can research, study and critique things central to their community organizing efforts.

Training — Learning about issues is not all youth activists need. Training can be essential for youth-led activists to be successful. They can learn the skills needed and tactics that are vital for successful for powerful short-term and long-term campaigns designed to change the world.

Inspiration — The reality of youth activism today is that there is a lot of inspiration. However, finding it can be challenging for children and youth, as few sources are brave enough to share powerful stories of youth changing the world. Youtube, select media, and many other sources may provide important stories youth can relate to. Also, in communities around the world its important to see what’s happened before, and many communities have hidden histories of youth-led activism.

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Videos Elsewhere Online

Publications Elsewhere Online


Other tools are out there, too – share your thoughts in the comments below! For more information about how Freechild Institute can support youth/adult partnerships in your community or organization, contact us.

Youth/Adult Partnerships Tip Sheet

Youth/adult partnerships
According to the Freechild Institute, youth/adult partnerships have certain traits.

The Freechild Project has found that both young people and adults have the power to help our communities become vibrant, enriching places to live.  However, facilitating young people and adults working together can be challenging.  The following tips can be helpful when you are working to create Youth-Adult Partnerships.

“No one is born a good citizen; no nation is born a democracy. Rather, both are processes that continue to evolve over a lifetime. Young people must be included from birth. A society that cuts off from its youth severs its lifeline.” ― Kofi Annan


The following includes tips and information that can help YOU create lasting and sustainable Youth-Adult Partnerships.

Youth/Adult Partnerships by The Freechild Project
Youth/adult partnerships. That’s all. Discover our Youth/Adult Partnerships Tip Sheet!

1) Know Thyself.

When youth and adults work together, they must face some key questions about themselves: Do I appreciate different perspectives?  What stereotypes do I have about others?  Do I judge people based on their clothes rather than their abilities?  Why should I be open to working with youth/adults?  Adults and young people must be willing to honestly address their stereotypes and preconceptions to work together effectively.

2) Speak By Listening.

All people, regardless of age, have the potential to be both teachers and students.  Unfortunately, we are often too pressed for time, overly task-oriented, or limited by traditional roles, so we neglect toreally communicate with one another.  Young people must take a stand for positive change and demand that their voices be heard.  Adults should step back and listen – really listen – to the concerns of young people.

3) Make It Meaningful.

All people – youth & adults – need to feel that they are contributing to their communities.  Young people and adults can work together to create meaningful and challenging opportunities to change our communities.  Respect both youth and adults, by thinking about schedules, transportation needs, and other commitments when planning meetings and gatherings.  And don’t forget to recognize everyone’s efforts!

4) Spread the Wealth.

Young people, when involved in the decision-making that will affect their lives, grow more capable, responsible, and trusting of adults.  By working with young people, adults become more energized, creative, and insightful.  Adults and youth who recognize the benefits of working together are great ambassadors to their own peer groups.  Spread the work – youth and adults who work as allies develop a broader base of support and build stronger communities.

5) Check Yourself.

Read through these questions and ask yourself if you’re really ready to create partnerships with young people? Young people, are you really ready to work with adults?

  • DO I respect and value the opinions of others no matter how old they are?
  • DO I seek to involve a diverse group of people in my programs and projects?
  • WHAT IS my motivation for working with youth/adults?
  • DO I expect one person to represent the opinions of all youth or all adults?
  • AM I willing to let go of some of my own control in order to share responsibility?
  • WHY DO I want to work with adults/youth?

  • Offer moral support, encouragement, and a little bit of wisdom- with restraint
  • Help make connections with other supportive adults in the community
  • Recruit young people to help recruit other young people
  • Provide a telephone, copier, fax machine, computers, etc.
  • Supervise events
  • Share wisdom and experience
  • Allow young people to find the answers and make mistakes
  • Make sure that activities are safe and appropriate
  • Provide training
  • Help locate funding sources
  • Provide transportation to projects, community organizations or other locations
  • Communicate with parents
From YAC Tracks: A Step-By-Step Guide for Organizing Community Action Coalitions – the Kansas Office for Community Service and the Points of Light Foundation, 1995

6) Take Practical Steps.

  • Build a team of young people and adults working together with a common purpose
  • Respect is essential: without basic respect and trust, youth leadership cannot help
  • Back up young leaders with care and support… young people lack the experience to know that a failure is not the end of the world: they need encouragement and support to learn from mistakes
  • Structure opportunities for reflection through writing and discussion: a key factor in effective leadership is the ability to learn from experiences and to apply them
  • Utilize program veterans or older peers in training roles
  • Avoid tokenism: one or two students on a board may be intimidated or feel inadequate representing all their peers
  • Establish and maintain accountability
  • Set responsibilities at appropriate levels – too high: failure is guaranteed; too low: you insult their intelligence and risk boring them.
  • Involve young people in the process of delegating responsibilities
  • Model the behaviors you expect from youth leaders
  • Listen to each other!
  • Have fun!

7) Take a Look Inside.

Ultimately, we all have to ask ourselves “What is the purpose of youth-adult partnerships?” If we answer that we honesty and integrity, we may find that there are great motivations for this action. We may also discover that we have ulterior motives that aren’t so great. Either way, the moral of the story is that we have to be sincere in our desire to engage in partnerships, or else they are bound to fail. Meet the task. Make change now.

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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/adult partnerships in your community or organization, contact us.

Youth and the Environment

Freechild Project youth making a trail

Ecology is the spiritual, physical, and practical relationship we have to the earth. The Freechild Project has found that around the world young people are advocating for protection and working to restore damaged environments. These groups teach us that each person has a personal and social responsibility to the world we live in, to act as a steward and advocate for the earth. Youth and the environment are wholly interdependent upon each other, and adults can follow their lead.

“You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.” ― Jane Goodall


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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 the environment in your community or organization, contact us.

Youth Leadership

Youth Can Be the Leaders of Tomorrow - If We Procrastinate.

Youth leadership happens anytime a young person takes control, manages, directs and leads themselves and/or others. Within themselves, young people show leadership by identifying what matters to them and holding true to those things, including their values, objectives, goals and ideas. Throughout their lives, young people can lead by example, lead by following and lead through determination. Youth leadership can include actions that affect other youth, younger children and adults, whether its three people or 3,000,000 people. 

The Freechild Project believes that while youth leadership development has long been seen as a tool for manipulation of youth power, there is possibility and reality for young people becoming powerful, engaged leaders for social change.

“There are two ways of exerting one’s strength; one is pushing down, the other is pulling up.” ― Booker T. Washington


Ways Youth are Changing the World through Youth Leadership

Engaging Diversity ― Young people are expanding the scope and depth of leadership activities by engaging nontraditional youth leaders in partnerships. Focused on race and social-economic differences, these youth are also engaging BLGQTT youth; low-academic achievers and dropouts; youth from alternative family backgrounds and others.

Active, Informed Leadership ― Rather than simply leading within a vacuum, youth leaders today are learning, exploring and examining as much as they can about their communities, families and society in order to become more effective, engaging leaders. They are also taking direct, tangible action that results in real outcomes.

Critical Thinking and Critical Action ― Accepting status quo and perpetuating bland adult perspectives of youth isn’t enough for many youth leaders today. Instead, examining their actions from a social justice lens, they are taking radically different, radically engaging approaches to transforming the schools, organizations, community and societies that name them leaders.


Tools Youth Need to Change the World through Youth Leadership

Education ― Providing real, substantive opportunities for youth leaders to learn about the world through practical action is a key to successful youth leadership today. Addressing the issues we’ve identified throughout this website and taking any actions to create change is an important way to learn; reflection, critical thinking and cultural actions are great ways to demonstrate that learning.

Opportunities ― Its all fun and games until a neighborhood, organization, or society doesn’t change. Working together, young people and adults can identify practical opportunities for youth leaders to make a difference in their lives or the lives of others.

Youth/Adult Partnerships ― Youth do not need to rely on adults to create youth leadership opportunities. However, when they form youth/adult partnerships together to change the world, youth and adults can transform everyone’s lives.


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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 build youth leadership in your community or organization, contact us.

Youth Involvement

Dozens of decisions are made about the lives of young people everyday. Families, schools, youth programs, city councils, foundations, government agencies, employers, lawmakers… the list is virtually endless. There is an equally endless list of reasons why children and youth need to be meaningfully involved in activities that affect them personally and their communities as a whole. Youth involvement provides opportunities for young people to participate in the activities, projects, programs, organizations, strategies and initiatives throughout society.

“It starts innocently. Casually. You turn up at the annual spring fair full of beans, help with the raffle tickets (because the pretty red-haired music teacher asks you to) and win a bottle of whiskey (all school raffles are fixed), and, before you know where you are, you’re turning up at the weekly school council meetings, organizing concerts, discussing plans for a new music department, donating funds for the rejuvenation of the water fountains—you’re implicated in the school, you’re involved in it. Sooner or later you stop dropping your children at the school gates. You start following them in.” ― Zadie Smith


Ways Youth are Changing the World through Youth Involvement

Youth as Decision-Makers — Youth involvement in personal decision-making is an essential skill all young people should learn about and hone throughout their lives. Youth involvement in organizational decision-making and community decision-making is equally important.

Youth/Adult Partnerships — Becoming active, engaged and substantive partners with adults can empower and engage young people like few other activities. Youth/adult partnerships are intentional, responsive and appropriate in every setting.

Youth Mainstreaming — Taking youth involvement to the next level means setting higher expectations, securing deeper commitments and establishing new ground for transformation. This can happen through youth mainstreaming.


Tools Youth Need to Change the World through Youth Involvement

Education — Teaching  young people about the structures, activities and actions that make youth involvement effective is important; however, facilitating their understanding about the assumptions, attitudes, beliefs and opinions behind youth involvement matters more.

Opportunities — Young people need authentic, substantive and meaningful opportunities to become involved throughout their lives, communities and the world. Creating these opportunities isn’t rocket science, but isn’t completely obvious, either.

Technology — Youth involvement can be established, promoted, substantiated and transformative through technology. Social media, the Internet, texting and other devices can empower young people to become involved and push for more.


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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 involvement in your community or organization, contact us.



Youth Participation + Social Change

Youth activism expert Yve Susskind taught Freechild that youth participation was something young people can do on their own. Adults can involve youth, they can engage youth, but they cannot participate youth. Youth participation can happen through sports, schools, faith communities, and throughout communities. It can also happen in homes and among friends. Youth participation can be formal or informal; when its formal, youth may not choose to attend something, but they choose whether to participate. When its informal, youth choose to join in on something.

Ways Youth Can Change the World through Youth Participation

Youth as Recruiters — Young people can be the greatest peer advocates and community builders. Choosing activities and issues they are passionate about gives children and youth immediate investment in a program; allowing them to connect with people they want on board gives them the opportunities they need to influence people. Youth participation in recruiting can lead to the greatest outcomes for every project or program.

Social Media — Using technology they are comfortable with allows children and youth to assume influence, motivate others and propel social movements forward. Social media in all its forms answers this call, giving young people a doorway into participating in vast global conversations, and opening doorways to action offline, too.

Youth Authors — Young people can participate in social change through writing. Whether they are developing ebooks for young audiences online, writing articles in the local newspaper, or using texts to blast out messages to their friends and families, young authors can participate in social change in active, meaningful ways.

Things Youth Need to Change the World through Youth Participation

Opportunities — Often denied access to become meaningful participants in their own lives, children and youth need opportunities to participate. Whether happening at home, in nonprofits or local government, through school or in national organizations, youth participation can require door openings.

Inspiration — The inspiration to become active in their own lives escapes many young people who have been historically denied that right. Inspiring these children and youth can lead to substantive, impacting youth participation throughout communities.

Education — Once youth participation happens, its important to introduce and expand the knowledge, power and abilities of young people. Providing skill-building training and facilitating knowledge-sharing activities are key to improving youth participation.

You Might Like…

Elsewhere Online

  • Youth Participation in Community Planning by Ramona Mullahey, Yve Susskind and Barry Checkoway for the American Planning Association
  • Youth participation” by United Nations Youth
  • Youth Participation Guide: Assessment, Planning, and Implementation” by YouthNet and Family Health International for Advocates for Youth
  • Community Club Toolkit  – Designed for sports clubs, community groups, youth centres or anyone trying to organise community events, sports activities or structured programs for informal groups and young people. A free resource with lots of ‘how to’ hints and useful templates to save your club time when: running meetings; helping club volunteers and members; engaging youth in decision making; membership (succession) planning; and running the day to day jobs within a community committee.


Other tools are out there, too – share your thoughts in the comments below! For more information about how The Freechild Project can support youth participation in your community or organization, contact us.

Book Reviews

Freechild Institute reviews books related to youth + social change. They are generally for youth activists, adult allies, and about community involvement, young people, promoting social change, changing education, supporting youth rights, and more.

We welcome unsolicited submissions, but can’t guarantee a review. For more information, contact us.

Book Reviews

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A Review of The Abandoned Generation: Democracy Beyond the Culture of Fear

A review of The Abandoned Generation: Democracy beyond the culture of fear by Henry Giroux

The most important contribution to our collective work for social change by and with young people in recent years is not being talked about. Perhaps because it is the most dangerous. Truth is told, lies exposed, agendas revealed, and purpose questioned.

The Abandoned Generation: Democracy Beyond the Culture of Fear was written by cultural theorist and Freechild Project advisor Henry Giroux. Giroux has been a scholar for 25 years, publishing more than 30 books and 250 scholarly articles. Some people refer to his work as socialist, dissident, and revolutionary; all very stand-offish terms for a man dedicated to revealing the various agendas against young people, democracy and social justice today. And reveal plots he does.

In this latest book Giroux carefully outlines several competing agendas for America’s children and youth, including that of the “Compassionate conservatives” of the Bush Administration destroying the federal funding base for several social programs designed to support low-income children and youth across the nation; Corporations fighting for a chance to run America’s schools, determined to indoctrinate the values of patriotic consumerism in school students by taking the “public” out of public schools, and; Mass media’s continued assault on mass culture’s perceptions of youth by consistently portraying young people as apathetic, trashed out waste who are only motivated by punishment and rewards.

Giroux speaks directly to young activists today, recognizing the power behind a lot of different groups, and offering a challenge for young people to connect with larger movements for social justice, like fighting for a radical, inclusive democracy instead of simply an end to sweatshop labor.

He also addresses educators, continuously calling for social justice, empowerment, and action in classrooms. Giroux shows how standardized tests serve multiple gods, enforcing racism, consumption, and class segregation in the name of “high performance.” There is a constant thread throughout the book calling for educators to teach critical thinking, active democracy, and community action for social change.

At a time when a lot of people see hope as a dirty word, Giroux calls it front and center. He challenges the reader to examine the power of Hope for themselves, and calls for us to remove Hope from a silly, idyllic notion of someday faraway to a present, guiding, active notion that can guide and engage people, young and old, everyday.

In my continued effort to explore the depth, purpose, and effects of youth-led community action, I have not found another book that is so determined to tell the truth; the challenge now is to get people to read it. I thoroughly recommend The Abandoned Generation to anyone dedicated to promoting social change by and with young people around the world, and eagerly await for the action that will follow.


Book Details


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A Review of Walking on Water: Reading, Writing, and Revolution

A review of Walking on Water: Reading, Writing, and Revolution by Derrick Jensen

One of the most important components of both education and activism is contextualization. As Paulo Freire argued, learning must be rooted in the context in which education takes place. For a sixth-grader in the US, that would be their local community; for a elderly person, that might be their family. For Derrick Jensen, that place was in classrooms at a university and a maximum security prison, where he was taught creative writing to Washington state college students and prisoners convicted of robbery, rape, and murder. In this book Jensen shares stories from those places as a guise and guide for the larger lessons, both hinted at and carefully detailed throughout this book.

The lessons here are truly revolutionary. The author begins by writing,

As is true for most people I know, I’ve always loved learning. As is also true for most people I know, I always hated school. Why is that?


With this opening line, Jensen begins a more-than-casual assault on traditional schooling, railing on everything from classroom seating arrangements to grading; from teaching methods to attendance. The lessons here a resonant of the teachings of both John Holt and John Taylor Gatto, the latter of whom Jensen credits greatly, and they give anecdotal meaning to some of the wisdom of by Grace Llewellyn and William Upski Wimsatt.

Through his lessons, Jensen gives substance and validity to many peoples’ feelings of alienation and disconnectedness in school, and offers a brilliant guide to creative writing along the way. Jensen writes,

Throughout our adult lives, most of us are expected to get to work on time, to do our boss’s bidding…and not to leave till the final bell has rung. It is expected that we will watch the clock, counting seconds till five o’clock, till Friday, till payday, till retirement, when at last our time will again be our own, as it was before we began kindergarten, or preschool, or daycare. Where do we learn to do all of this waiting?


The answer, of course, is school. School, Jensen says, is the “day-prison” where we learn to be “a nation of slaves.”

He then follows this daring declaration with another story from his prison experience, where he created “an atmosphere in which students wish to learn…”, which included asking both prisoners and college students to be uncomfortable in their search for meaning through writing. Throughout this book Jensen includes several useful writing tips that offer a unique twist to this book: while a significant diatribe against historical approaches to education, it provides useful methods for self-education and learning through life.

Ultimately Jensen achieves Freire’s challenge of sharing with students the goal of “reading the word through the world,” and in that is Jensen’s greatest success. This book is vitally important to any person seeking inspiration for learning outside the lines, both for its practical advice, and for the fact that it is coming from a seasoned educator.

I believe that it can also be important to young people particularly, because through his intelligent, accessible thinking, Jensen acknowledges what many youth believe: school isn’t relevant to young people today because teachers can’t be relevant to learning today. They just don’t know how. However, more importantly, Jensen himself disproves that, and may actually inspire young readers to look into places of higher education for the vital allyship and mentorship that adult educators can potentially offer.

As Jensen ponders the weight of the world throughout the book, including wrestling with conservatism, hopelessness and apathy, war, and many other feelings, he leaves readers with a challenging thought that easily summarizes the motivation of this book, and lends this book its essentialness in the activist library:

There is much work to be done. What are you waiting for? It’s time to begin.


It is time to begin. Thank you, Derrick Jensen, for giving us a roadway to get started.


Book Details

  • Title: Walking on Water: Reading, Writing, and Revolution
  • Author: Derrick Jensen
  • Publisher: Chelsea Green Publishing Company (2004)
  • ISBN: 1931498482


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A Review of Take Back Higher Education: Race, Youth, and the Crisis of Democracy in the Post-Civil Rights Era

A review of Take Back Higher Education: Race, Youth, and the Crisis of Democracy in the Post-Civil Rights Era by Giroux and Searls-Giroux

In Take Back High Education, Giroux and Searls Giroux take a continuing analysis of the neo-liberalization of American education one step further by going for the heart of the academy. They begin this journey by acknowledging that schools should not be narrowed out as “the key to revitalizing a waning political democracy.”

However, consistent with more than 25 years of critical reflection, the authors contend that higher education should be partners in the struggle for social justice, and that academics have a responsibility to engage young people in that struggle.

Giroux and Giroux charges the reader to look farther than schools by openly wondering “How do we invent a language of community or dare to asset a notion of public good…?” Throughout this book they return to this question, offering challenges to students, academics, and professors alike. The authors readily call on educators to build courses by combining,

“democratic principles, values, and practices with… the histories and struggles of those often marginalized because of race, class, gender, disability, or age” (p99).


Giroux and Giroux portray colleges and universities as being more than neglected by a public that denies their relevance; because of that, higher education is surrendering academic freedom and judiciousness to the highest bidder: namely, the corporate gods of the US. This new education-market economy is turning once prestigious institutions into psuedo-companies, bent on the “bottom line” and profit margins. However, the responsibility for the “take back” of higher education falls equally on administrative, political, and academic shoulders.

Giroux and Giroux call on educators to move beyond the land of academia and to integrate- personally and academically- into the larger spheres in the community, where culture and politics are truly learned and made relevant. They also implore educators to work collectively with other academics and with the larger community as partners- not experts- in important domestic problems. [In a particularly important honor to our work, Giroux and Giroux cite The Freechild Project as an example of academics becoming engaged as allies with resources to share (p115).]

Continually hammering the faults of profiteering in higher education, the authors write,

Neoliberalism, fueled by its unwavering belief in market values and the unyielding logic of corporate profit-making, has little patience with non-commodified knowledge or with the more lofty ideals that have defined higher education as a public service.


While this sounds specific to the settings of the community colleges, state colleges, and universities we might or have attended, there is truth within this statement that affects many workers in the nonprofit sector. The frightening indifference of neoliberalism to the mission of nonprofit service work has been tearing at the heart of this field in the last fifteen years that I’ve been in it. However, there is more on this in Henry Giroux’s next work.

At the end of the book the authors pose the question of whether there is a hope for democracy in higher education. After reading their thorough examination of the onslaught of neoliberalism against public goods, services, and civic freedoms in education, readers may think that Giroux and Giroux may think otherwise. Rather, they offer a different, more hopeful future. Highlighting the work of student activists across the nation, they offer the strikes, demonstrations, rallies, and other protests young people have led in the past ten years as evidence of the insurgent call for democracy in schools.

Coupled with the allyship of professors and the larger community, there is a possibility for better higher education. According to Giroux and Giroux that possibility is none other than the “promise of an unrealized democracy – a democracy that promise a different future, one that is filled with hope and mediated by the reality of democratic-based struggles.” That’s the future that we work for everyday – and the reason why you should read this book.


Book Details

  • Title: Take Back Higher Education: Race, Youth, and the Crisis of Democracy in the Post-Civil Rights Era
  • Authors: Henry Giroux and Susan Searls Giroux
  • Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan


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