Youth Voice Has No Limits

  • The tech-saavy girl at school builds a website about how students can run schools.That punk kid pulls out a marker and tags a locker on his way down the hall.
  • Two fifth grades classes at the local elementary band together to replant the native vegetation down by the lake.
  • A 16-year-old testifies in front of the state legislature against raising the driving age.
  • Three teens protest the site of the new gravel plant in their rural community; within an hour 15 youth and adults join them.
  • Brandy and Levon call the police when they witness a shooting.
  • Miguel and Alejandro start a new hip hop band to speak out against youth unemployment.
Youth Voice has no limits – it simply exists. I have heard many advocates make the argument that we need more Youth Voice or that youth need to be at the table. On the other side adults complain that youth just don’t care and that youth already have all the opportunities they need to be heard. Neither is exactly right, no matter what the situation.
In reality I believe that the efforts of individuals, organizations and communities designed that want to actively engage the “distinct ideas, opinions, attitudes, knowledge, and actions of young people” need to look no further than the ends of their noses. For me this gets to the very crux of the Youth Voice question: How can we meet young people where they are rather than insist they come to where we want them to be?
For as long as there has been a conversation about engaging Youth Voice, civic engagement organizations and community development programs and political parties and national service projects and government agencies have sought nothing more than to bring youth to where they want them to be. Voting booths would be full; trees would be planted and trash retrieved; town halls would be filled with youth, and; committees would have young representatives speaking on them. These familiar actions are complimented by the familiar issues addressed by youth. They’d talk about subjects we’re familiar with in ways we’re familiar with them, only with that particular enthusiasm adults easily attribute to young people.
I first started working with schools almost 10 years ago I spent a few years talking with teachers about engaging youth voice in the classroom. Almost immediately I ran into a core of teachers who always reported that they already did that. Not knowing any better, I easily dismissed them out-of-hand because I thought they didn’t understand what I was trying to explain. Today I think I know what they meant – and it only took me 10 years!
I want to see this notion of Youth Voice better understood, and the only way I can think to demonstrate that is through my writing and training. What can you do?

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