Around the world, generally well-meaning (but poorly informed) adults limit the abilities young people have to express themselves. However, the right to free speech belongs to children and youth, too. Parents, teachers, headmasters and principals, religious leaders, government officials, court judges and politicians who set limits on the free speech of young people simply because of their ages are actively practicing adultism, and are ill-advised. Youth and free speech can change the world, giving new leeway, new abilities and new realities to young people and communities around the world.
Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers. — Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Ways Youth are Changing the World through Free Speech
Youth Organizing — Leading campaigns focused on free speech, young people can rally their friends, peers, younger people and entire communities. Organizing campaigns can target on repression of free speech, youth expression, community building activities, and other ways free speech happens throughout our lives and our communities.
Youth as Teachers — When young people gain knowledge and skills focused on free speech, they can develop the skills necessary to transform the hearts and minds of students. Experiencing youth facilitation on learning, teaching and leadership can inspire others to take fast action, assume appropriate responsibility, and move people from resistance to acceptance to advocacy quickly.
Youth Media Makers — Developing, researching, reporting, distributing and critiquing the media they consume can position young people as powerful free speech advocates. Youth voice and advocacy can be bolder, last longer and have greater impact when youth media makers are active throughout a community, on the Internet or in other venues.
Youth as Artists — Creative expressions of attitudes, wisdom, knowledge, ideas, criticism and culture are powerful ways young people can express their free speech rights and advocate for youth free speech. Youth as artists can alter individual opinions, build community knowledge and share cultural expression that might otherwise be ignored, denied or lost.
Things Youth Need to Change the World through Freedom of Speech
Education — Learning the extent of free speech, how to effectively advocate for free speech, and what the challenges to free speech are can be a powerful tool for social change. Young people can identify where free speech is and isn’t in their lives, reflect on its meaning to them, and learn through action by expressing their free speech.
Action — Engaging youth in expressing their free speech can be a powerful way to transform the places where young people live, learn, play and work everyday. Tools for action can include community organizing, media making, the Arts, participatory action research, consumerism and many other expressions.
Youth/Adult Partnerships — Fostering youth/adult partnerships can be a powerful way to engage youth for free speech. Parents, teachers, youth workers, community advocates and others can infuse the principles of youth/adult partnership into their relationships with young people, and specifically teach and encourage free speech by children and youth.
- Voices of Youth Freedom of Speech Conversation on “Does freedom of speech mean that we should be allowed to say anything we want?” by UNICEF
- “‘Bong Hits 4 Jesus’ case limits student rights” from CNN
- “Student Speech and Privacy” by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)
- “Human Right #19: Freedom of Expression” by Youth for Human Rights
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 free speech in your community or organization, contact us.