Youth + Social Change through Youth Mediators

Freechild Project youth in São Paulo, Brazil.

Engaging youth as mediators teaches young people to understand conflict within themselves and others. Discovering how they influence conflict, how to self-manage conflict, and how to identify strategies for calmness and clarity is enhanced by learning listening and speaking skills and how to understand other peoples’ point of view. Youth mediators can help other youth, younger students, and adults to have important conversations in order to become clearer themselves, understand each other’s perspectives, and make decisions about next steps. Youth can change the world as mediators when they apply these skills throughout their lives, including at home, in school, and throughout their communities.

You can’t shake hands with a clenched fist. — Indira Gandhi

Ways for Youth + Social Change through Youth Mediation

Youth-Led Programs — Young people can learn the deep parts of conflict resolution, become program designers and managers, and lead their own efforts to promote mediation in their schools and communities. Young people transform relationships when they move past struggle and towards interdependence and community-building.

Youth Courts — Youth courts are powerful tools for young people to develop their own capacity for problem-solving and mediation. Through jurisdiction and official proceedings, youth can reduce recidivism, promote conflict resolution and build communities instead of tearing them apart like traditional juvenile justice programs have.

Youth Managing Adult Staff — When young people participate in hiring, training, supervising and evaluating adult staff, they balance the perceptions of power within organizations and throughout communities. This acts towards mediation by empowering those who are taught, watched and facilitated by adults with the ability to rectify their challenges with adults, laying a substantive foundation for youth/adult partnerships.

Needs for Youth + Social Change through Youth Mediation

Education — Comprehensive youth mediation programs should include education for youth and adults on how to: Identify goals and outcomes; Identify and engage stakeholders, Create a team to plan and develop the program, Develop systems including referral, intake, mediation coordination; and Train students to become mediators and providing continuing education. Programs should also receive on-going technical assistance. Youth mediator programs should have immediately positive impact on conflict and be sustainable.

Opportunities — Young people need substantial opportunities to be mediators in the places they spend the most time, including at home, in schools and throughout their communities. They also need real adult allies who stand with them for mediation, and support from government agencies, law enforcement and others.

Youth/Adult Partnerships — Real youth/adult partnerships engage young people and adults in equitable relationships that can build the power, purpose and potential of youth mediators. Through transparency, communication, mutual investment and meaningful involvement, young people and adults can transform community culture for the better.

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

Experiential Learning for Youth + Social Change

SoundOut Summer Camp Participants

When young people learn through doing, they are participating in experiential learning. When youth-led experiential learning is happening, young people focus on real issues they can relate to that are taken from the real world they live within. Experiential learning is individually oriented, even when children and youth work in groups. Action learning, service learning, cooperative learning and challenge learning are all forms of experiential learning.

“…for the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them” — Aristotle

Ways Youth can Change the World through Experiential Learning

Youth-Led Projects — When young people lead experiential learning, they can change the world. Learning about different activities, planning experiences, facilitating groups and assessing their projects can show youth they are powerful beyond measure.

Youth/Adult Partnerships — Working with adults as allies allows young people to build their abilities, knowledge and skills in safe, healthy relationships. Experiential learning can allow children and youth to build new understandings of how teaching and learning happens.

Community Youth Development — Become engaged in actively, meaningfully changing their communities can give young people opportunities to learn through experience while changing the world. Learning about community, social change and action is at the heart of CYD.

Things Youth Need to Change the World through Experiential Learning

Training — Learning about experiential learning as a concept and a practice can build the ability of children and youth to make life experiences more meaningful for themselves. They can be trained in the methodology, in the facilitation, in assessment and in how to apply experiential learning beliefs across different applications.

Inspiration — Going through learning activities without knowing what is happening, why its happening and where its going to, young people can lose their motivation for learning. Becoming inspired can happen through storytelling and a lot of other ways.

Classroom Credit — Experiential learning can be challenging to plan, hard to facilitate and risky to assess. Acknowledging the energy, action and goals of learners with classroom credit can add substance, meaning and depth to experiential learning.

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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 experiential learning in your community or organization, contact us.

Youth and Gender Equity

"I study to liberate, not to get into debate."

Gender equity is the fair distribution of respect, trust, communication, involvement and resources to people who identify as male, female or who are transgendered. It does not necessarily mean making the same activities, facilities and cultures available to males, females and transgendered people. Gender equity does mean that females and transgendered people experience a full range of choices that meet their needs, interests and experiences. That means some activities may be the same as those offered to males, while others may be altered, and some may be altogether different. Young people can change the world through gender equity by taking action towards equity while challenging and eliminating disadvantages people experience because of their gender. They can also examine and challenge practices and policies that may hinder the participation of people because they identify as females or transgendered.

“I do not think, sir, you have any right to command me, merely because you are older than I, or because you have seen more of the world than I have; your claim to superiority depends on the use you have made of your time and experience.” ― Charlotte Brontë


Ways Youth can Change the World through Gender Equity

Youth-Led Classes — Youth can teach children, their peers and adults about gender equity. Through hands-on activities with real learning goals, youth facilitators can role model the most effective ways to reach learners, and share the most effective and empowering information along the way!

Policy Development — Working with policy-makers as allies, youth can create policies, rules, regulations and formal procedures in organizations, agencies and institutions in order to foster gender equity. Contributing to the study, critical analysis and rewriting of policies, youth can also evaluate their implementation and effectiveness.

Community Governance — Young people can participate in neighborhood associations, community groups, village / town / city government, county government and other local-level activities to ensure gender equity. Children and youth can also research issues that matter to them, present their findings and promote what they’ve learned, too.


Learn about adultism at
Learn about adultism.


Things Youth Need to Change the World through Gender Equity

Training — Gender discrimination and gender bias is obvious to a lot of people when they are very young children. However, learning about the systemic and cultural bias against women and transgender people can require specific education and training. Young people may need these learning opportunities to move into action.

Opportunities — Adults can create substantive opportunities for children and youth to become involved in challenging gender bias and building gender equity. Actual activities and more can transform discrimination.

Technology — Staying connected across distances, identities and communities can be a challenge for youth advocating for gender equity. Using technology including social media and texting can allow young people to cross the distances on their terms.


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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 community youth development in your community or organization, contact us.





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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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.

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 Making Space – Making Change

Making Spaces Making Change by the Young Wisdom Project of the Movement Strategy Project

Responding to a crisis is not easy work. People who spend day in and out working for the good of other people are often taxed to the extremes: selflessness and empathy override their commitment to themselves.

That is why it is so rare to capture a succinct yet powerful overview of youth activism today: democracy is in crisis mode, and those who are struggling for its life are being pushed to the extremes. That is why Making Space – Making Change is the most important document focusing on young people and social change to come out in recent times.

This new publication from the Movement Strategy Center in Oakland profiles five youth-led and youth-driven organizations from across the U.S. It provides insightful details on how these organizations started, how they build youth leadership and power, deal with challenges, and how they make real change in their communities.

For readers of Paulo Freire, bell hooks, Peter McLaren, and other critical educators, there are many familiar points- but with an important focus on social change led by young people. Early in the introduction to youth-led action, the authors state,

“Instead of approaching the question of youth-led organizations as an either/or situation, it’s helpful to think about youth leadership and governance as a continuum with a spectrum of possibilities – something that can develop and change over time.” (p 15)


This echoes bell hooks recent book, Teaching for Community: A Pedagogy of Hope, where hooks extols readers to look beyond either/or and towards with/and. The authors of this report provide an important bridge to many critical thinkers, applying much-needed theory to the powerful, practical work of youth activists.

Rather than simply providing another toolkit, this report allows the details to tell the stories. The feature on the Lummi CEDAR Project, as all of the stories, paints a vivid portrait of a community responding to the dilemma of keeping cultural pride and community alive by engaging youth. This project highlights the power of belonging and identity, a trait that consumerist culture increasingly denies to many young people. As in other stories, the report is frank about the challenges facing the CEDAR Project: Creating a youth-led structure for an indigenous context; adapting organizational development models; and creating a culturally relevant youth organizing model in a rural Native community.

However, the summaries are always hopeful – realistic, for sure – but hopeful. As one of the youth directors said,

“It’s really awesome to me because our community is a small tribal community, and we have eighty young people trained now. So we have a broad network living a healthy lifestyle, caring about their community, inspired, motivated, and have this drive to make a positive change in their community. And that impacts their family… We’re just building a collective movement…” (p 41)


Making Space – Making Change is an important tool for young people and adults allies who are ready to put their principles into practice. It is a more important tool in the growing library of publications that support young people leading social change. Important analysis, detailed findings, and powerful personal connections can only promote a stronger, more effective future for social change led by and with young people. Thank you to the Young Wisdom Project – we’re all moving forward because of your work.


Book Details


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Youth Voice Tools

Youth participants in a Freechild program.

The Freechild Project Youth Voice

The Freechild Project defines Youth Voice as the active, distinct, and concentrated ways young people represent themselves throughout society.

The Freechild Project has been promoting Youth Voice in nonprofit organizations, schools, foundations and government agencies since it was founded in 2001.

Working with a variety of partners across the country, Freechild has learned about Youth Voice from the 1000s of young people and adult allies in our workshops and critical conversations.

Use the Table of Contents below to find some of the tools, examples and resources we have developed and collected over the years.

Youth Voice Tools
Table Of Contents

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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.

Youth Equity

Freechild Project youth in New Hampshire

When young people are completely equitable with adults, they experience a 40/60 split, or 20/80 split, or any other split of rights and responsibilities when it’s deemed appropriate by young people and adults, and not either group alone.

Youth equity allows everyone involved- young people and adults- to be recognized for their impact in the activity, program, organization or movement. Each group also has ownership of all the outcomes, including specific topic areas, youth development goals, and outcomes on communities. Youth equity requires conscious commitment by all participants to overcoming the barriers involved.

Allowing adults and young people to have healthy, whole relationships with each other, youth equity moves everyone forward together through action. These relationships can ultimately lead to creating structures that support differences between and among young people and adults by establishing safe, supportive environments with equity at the center of all activities. In turn, this may lead to recreating the climate and culture of communities, and lead to the greatest efficacy of everyone’s involvement.

Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are. ― Benjamin Franklin


Equality and Equity: The difference matters. The Freechild Project


What Is Youth Equality With Adults?

When young people are fully equal with adults, they are fully involved in a given activity. In this activity, they experience a 50/50 split of authority, obligation, and commitment. Theoretically, they also receive equal education, equal resources and equal positions, too.

One of the realities of youth equality is that there isn’t recognition for the specific developmental needs of children, youth, or adults. Given the ability to create an equal bar with young people, adults often set that bar at the adults’ level, covertly insisting that children and youth rise to their level instead of vice versa. Without receiving that acknowledgment of their needs, young people may lose interest and become disengaged quickly. This can then allow adults to say, “We treated them equally and they failed; its their fault, not ours.”

However, youth equality with adults can also allow young people to experience full power and authority in relationship to adults. It can also foster the formation of basic youth/adult partnerships and promote rapid awareness building of youth mainstreaming in organizations or communities.


What Is Youth Equity With Adults?

When young people are completely equitable with adults, they may experience full authority with exceptional educational opportunities; phenomenal training with growing activities; or other configurations between children, youth and adults. Youth equity with adults can allow for this to be a 40/60 split, or 20/80 split when it’s deemed appropriate by young people and adults.

Everyone involved — young people and adults — are recognized for their impact in the activity, and each has ownership of the outcomes. Youth/adult equity requires conscious commitment by all participants to overcoming the barriers involved. It positions adults and young people in healthy, whole relationships with each other while moving forward in action.

Ultimately, youth/adult equity can lead to creating structures to support differences by establishing safe, supportive environments for equitable involvement. In turn, this may lead to recreating the climate and culture of communities, and lead to the greatest efficacy of young peoples’ participation.

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  • Toronto Youth Equity Strategy – Based on the idea that those youth who are most vulnerable to involvement in serious violence and crime do not have equitable access to the comprehensive supports they need to change their lives for the better. The purpose is to address what the City can do to better serve the needs of this specific population, within its authority to plan, manage, deliver, and advocate.




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


Youth Engagement in Incarceration

Buffalo Save the Kids youth hip hop program participant

Corporations and politicians who hype crime and demonize young people stand to gain a lot of money, power and influence by building and operating prisons that lock up young people. Youth and incarceration are woven into politics, economics, discrimination and abuse by many people and systems, including schools, law enforcement, courts, prisons, and politicians. When young people become engaged in challenging youth incarceration, they can change the world in many ways.

Our youth are not failing the system; the system is failing our youth. Ironically, the very youth who are being treated the worst are the young people who are going to lead us out of this nightmare. – Rachel Jackson

[Prison] relieves us of the responsibility of seriously engaging with the problems of our society, especially those produced by racism and, increasingly, global capitalism. — Angela Davis


Ways Youth Engagement Can Happen In Incarceration

Community Organizing — Working together with youth, children and adults, youth community organizers can confront and challenge the school-to-prison pipeline and the prison industrial complex in several ways. Traditionally, physical presence like picketing, blockades and sit-ins were used to produce results. Today, in addition to those ways, youth organizers are also using social media, youth Participatory Action Research, policy advocacy, hip hop, and other actions to organize communities to challenge the incarceration nation.

Youth as Politicians — Working within the political system, youth government representatives are challenging juvenile injustice in a variety of ways. Youth as politicians are working with state legislators, they are forwarding legislation focused on legal reforms; working with school boards, they are challenging school policies to adopt restorative justice practices. Much more is happening, too.

Youth/Adult Partnerships — Building intentional relationships focused on mutual respect, trust, communication and meaningful involvement, young people and adults are working together to defeat juvenile injustice. Advocating to political bodies; educating communities including children, youth and adults; and raising public awareness of juvenile injustice, youth/adult partnerships today have succeeded in transforming personal attitudes, shared cultures and organizational structures.


Tools for Youth Engagement in Incarceration

Opportunities — Organizations, programs and individuals can support youth engagement in challenging incarceration by creating opportunities for reflection, critical thinking, and deliberate action. Youth programs can focus on a variety of actions to challenge incarceration, including service learning, Participatory Action Research, and community building activities, as well as community organizing, intergenerational partnerships, and mentoring.

Education — Teaching young people can challenge incarceration. Lessons can focus on education against incarceration; learning about social, political, economic, legal and justice systems and their effects on families and communities; or other topics that affect juvenile injustice. Education activities can also center on culture, heritage and history; life skills; and other issues that are relevant to learners as they apply to stopping juvenile injustice.

Personal Development — Having substantive opportunities to create the life they want to live is essential to challenging the cycle of juvenile injustice. Partly focusing on defeating consumerism, personal development can include formal education, informal education, homeschooling, life skills development, understanding family and community dynamics, or other issues young people can learn how to live a life they love.


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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 incarceration in your community or organization, contact us.