Promote Youth Engagement in Organizations

How to Promote Youth Engagement in Organizations

1) Share Youth Engagement.

  • Talk with your supervisor, Executive Director, board members, and other decision-makers.
  • Build support by talking to staff members about youth engagement.
  • Train young people about youth engagement, why it matters, and how they can experience it more.
  • Research resources that might help different people in different roles throughout your organization understand youth engagement more. 
  • Pass along useful websites, materials, and other info with people who care or need to know.

2) Advocate Action.

  • Explore policy-making in your organization, and advocate for changes that reflect a commitment to sustained youth engagement through programs and throughout the organization.
  • Create an action plan that focuses on sustained programs and projects.
  • Be a constant and strong champion for youth engagement throughout your program or organization.
3) Facilitate Approaches.
  • Remember Gandhi’s idiom, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” If you want youth engagement in your program or organization, start engaging youth personally right now. 
  • Start leading activities and programs that foster youth engagement right now. Build youth engagement on the personal level for young people, then solidify it throughout your organization.
  • Strengthen your knowledge about youth engagement and then facilitate opportunities for others to learn about it.
4) Critique and Examine Outcomes.
  • Create safe space to engage diverse youth and adults in critical thinking and cultural examinations. 
  • Actively engage young people and adults in frank, open conversations about the activity, program, or organization.
  • Ask questions that inquire further into peoples’ assumptions or beliefs, and foster new understanding through having everyone share their experiences and opinions as applicable.
  • Ask hard questions about beliefs, understanding, and outcomes.
  • Examine new opportunities to talk change.
5) DO IT AGAIN!

When you travel through each of these steps, you’ll find a variety of awards for your hard work, including youth retention, re-engagement, and much more. 

Where These Came From

Recently, I’ve been working with a group of traditional, mainline youth-serving organizations. They offer services to young people living in adverse situations, including homelessness, family disruptions, addiction, and other circumstances. The activities generally fall into the realms of intervention, education, and employment.

Working with them to establish new approaches to their work, I have been slowly introduce my conceptual frameworks focused on youth engagement, especially how I wrote about the subject in my publication, A Short Introduction to Youth EngagementWhen I wrote the Short Intro…, I intentionally didn’t cover many important aspects of moving forward with the concept. Here’s one area that wasn’t addressed.

These are steps that I’ve followed for more than a decade as I’ve taught, trained, advocated for, and lived through many, many youth engagement programs and projects. They’re also what I’m using right now to help others promote this vital concept, too.

Thanks for reading! Let me know what you would add, take out, or challenge in the comments section below.

More Resources




Adult-Driven Youth Voice

Youth Voice is any expression of any young person anywhere, all the time, about anything. It doesn’t depend on adult approval, it doesn’t need specific spaces or energies, and is always present wherever young people are. The question generally is whether adults want to hear what’s being said.

If a young person is talking in front of a group sharing their beliefs or experience, ideas or knowledge, they’re sharing youth voice. The same can be true of leadership, community service, and teambuilding activities. However, young people who cut themselves are sharing youth voice, just like youth graffiti artists, students who text answers during tests, and gang members. The question isn’t whether they’re sharing youth voice, because they always are – the question is whether adults want to hear what’s being said.

This leads to the phenomenon of adult-driven youth voice.

Characteristics of Adult-Driven Youth Voice
Adult-Driven Youth Voice is when adults motivate, inspire, inform, encapsulate, and generally make youth voice become convenient for adults. Adult-Driven Youth Voice is Convenient Youth Voice. Here are five characteristics of adult-driven youth voice.

  • WHO: Youth who adults want to hear from are selected to share their voices. All young people are members of all the communities they occupy, both in a literal and metaphorical sense. However, adult-driven youth voice selects specific young people who may not jostle adults’ opinions or ideas to share youth voice. 
  • WHAT: Young people say what adults want. They usually echoing or parroting adult beliefs, ideas, knowledge, and/or experience. If they share their own, adults largely agree with what young people have said.
  • WHEN: The calendar is determined by adults for youth. Young people are listened to when adults have the interest or ability to hear them, and not necessarily when children or youth want to be heard.
  • WHERE: Youth voice happens in places adults want it to be shared. Whether on a graffiti wall in a forgotten alley downtown, in a boxing gym for teenagers, in debate class, or at a city-run forum for youth to share their opinions about something, youth voice happens where adults approve of.
  • WHY: Adults solicit youth voice about specific issues. Young people have a variety of perspectives about all kinds of subjects. However, adult-driven youth voice allows only perspectives on issues that are important to adults or that adults pick for young people. If young people move outside adult-driven boundaries, they are either re-directed or expected to stop sharing their voices.

There are advantages and disadvantages to each of the above characteristics. However, this article isn’t meant to share those judgments; instead, I want to encourage you to think for yourself about what matters and why it matters. After you’ve done that, visit The Freechild Project Youth Voice Toolkit to find tools, examples, and other resources to help you with youth voice.

Special thanks to my spectacular friend and longtime comrade Heather Manchester. Her critical thinking and willingness to kick my butt inspired this post (and many others!) and I stand indebted to her genius, patience, and energy she shares with me.

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