As any expression of any young person about anything, anywhere, at any time, Youth Voice happens in countless places in every community every day. This includes schools, businesses, alleys, sidewalks, libraries, city halls, government agencies, afterschool programs, summer camps, foundations, nonprofits, community centers, at home, on the streets, and in parks. Youth Voice happens in these places; whether its heard is another question altogether.
Each of these places has a special assignment for children and youth:
- In schools, young people are assigned to be students
- In businesses, youth are assigned youth to be shoppers
- In libraries, young people are assigned to be readers
- In alleys, youth are assigned to be vandals, thieves, or street artists
- In summer camps, youth are assigned to be campers
- On the streets, young people are assigned to be innocent, gang members, or bad drivers
- And so on…
All of these expectations are not inherently bad; they show that young people are seen. The issue may be that they aren’t seen fairly, or justly, or accurately, or according to their own self-identification. Instead, they’re assigned roles by adults that generally benefit adults.
But they do offer an opportunity to identify where Youth Voice can happen. There are other places where young people never go, but that affect them every day.
Adults don’t often consider it, but these sorts of
- City halls makes decisions about laws, regulations,
planning, and programs affecting young people
- School district offices make decisions about
classes, budgets, and curriculum for students
- Hospitals focus their services on
- Community centers and
neighborhood associations are
- Businesses choose what young people will like and sell them on wanting it
Again, these places are not bad, only under-informed.
Youth Voice Is For Living
Youth Voice can—and does—happen throughout our society, in the
places where young people belong and the places that affect them. That
includes large geographic areas; small learning communities; outdoors
in nature, and in homes, hospitals, hospices, and hallways in our
neighborhoods, schools, halls, legislatures, and across the state.
Voice happens in different types of institutions, organizations, and
communities across our communities, too. Following are several different types,
as well as considerations for those Youth Voice activities.
- Youth Voice Where Young People Live: Youth Voice begins at home. There are a lot of ways that young people
can contribute to decision-making that directly affects them every single day. This can include helping plan meals and decorating their own bedrooms, as well as decisions that affect the whole family, like
whether moving across town is a good idea, or when its time to buy a
new couch, comparing buying a new one versus a used one. Youth Voice
at home is encouraged by having children advocate for their own needs
(with consideration to others’ needs), speak up for themselves to
adults, and by adults advocating for their children when needed.
Where Youth Voice happens has to do with where young people actually
live. Young people who live in suburban areas have different
circumstances to consider than those who live in large cities, rural towns, or island communities. Those differences are significant, and they
matter when trying to engage children and youth.
- Youth Voice is for Suburban Communities: On the outskirts of cities around the world, suburban communities face
unique challenges engaging young people. These sometimes include
trying to connect with families who are new to the area. Suburban
youth may feel they lack a focus or reason to making Youth Voice real,
as they may see many of their needs already met. It can be difficult to
physically involve young people who are physically disconnected from
each other by lack of roads or public transportation. Suburban
communities may also have high numbers of young people who are at
home alone after school and who lack parental support for participating
in Youth Voice programs. It is also difficult to incubate Youth Voice in
communities that lack a physical center or downtown. Belonging is
central to Youth Voice.
- Youth Voice is for Rural Communities: Small towns and remote areas share some issues in common with
suburban communities. They both have challenges with transportation,
and getting to any central geographic “hub” can be tough. These
communities face other challenges as well, including what some people
call “brain drain.” This phrase usually summarizes the loss rural
communities feel when large percentages of young people move away
because of a lack of opportunities. Young people who stay in the area
may feel like they live in a “black hole” where their voices, their
dreams, and their lives never escape. Small, local economies suffer
when there is a blow to the area, such as the loss of an important
industry or lack of highway access. The resulting poverty can make it
difficult for young people to feel hopeful, as if they don’t have any
ability to create change in their lives or the lives of their communities.
Hope is central to Youth Voice.
- Youth Voice is for Urban Communities: Inner-city areas rely on hope. The experience of many urban youth
shows that urban neglect, a common issue in inner-city neighborhoods
across the state, can steal hope. For many young people it is hard to
feel hopeful when you don’t have food on the table. Safe schools,
glaring financial inequities, and negative relationships between youth
and police are a sampling of the issues urban youth face.
Other communities where there are particular challenges and rewards
of engaging young people. They include isolated communities
in extremely rural areas, Native American reservation communities
where culture and heritage is strong, and military base communities
with largely transient populations.
Youth Voice Is For Learning
Learning in classrooms, after-school programs, at home, or around the
community provides excellent opportunities to engage young people.
Children and youth can share responsibility for planning what they want
to learn, how they want to learn
it, and where they learn. They can
work with adults to create realistic, tangible learning goals; when
finished, young people can evaluate their accomplishments, learning
experiences, and learning environments. In schools and community
centers, young people can help teachers discover which teaching
strategies are most effective and what methods work best. Youth Voice
can help education administrators make student-centered decisions,
and policy-makers create more effective laws and regulations that
govern schools. young people are also engaged when students lead
classes, research learning, plan new schools, and advocate for
- Youth Voice is for Classrooms: The pressure is on schools to improve teaching and
learning. As educators struggle to encourage achievement from
kindergarten to twelfth-grade, they
are discovering Youth Voice makes
- Youth Voice throughout Schools: Students are also working to change schools in other ways. Out-of-school programs provide young people with safe,
supportive environments to expand their learning in healthy,
constructive ways. However, these programs share the responsibility
schools have by needing to actively strive to engage young people in
meaningful learning. Youth Voice can be a source for those experiences.
- Youth Voice is for Community Centers: Youth Voice doesn’t happen in a vacuum. By involving young people in
recreational activities with adults and seniors, our communities grow
stronger and stay together longer. Dances, game nights, and block
parties encourage youth to mix with adults in safe places; classes and
training opportunities that bring adults and young people together help
them learn from each other and see each other as partners, not
enemies. Youth can also make good staff at community centers when
they’re engaged in leading and growing programs.
- Youth Voice is for Parks and Recreation Programs
: Green spaces, play places, and nature are important to everyone—especially children and youth. Who better to help plan and grow
outdoor areas than those who use them? Young people can learn through
service projects in parks about biology, ecology, and neighborhood
design; and park staff can discover what works best in parks. Youth
Voice can also activate in parks leadership, advisory councils, advocacy
campaigns for better parks, program evaluation and park redesign.
- Youth Voice is for Libraries: Public libraries can bring together communities by making knowledge
accessible to young people and adults. Young people are encouraged by
youth-friendly spaces that are designed
young people. Featuring a
section to the interests of young people, like popular culture and youth
action, and hiring youth as staff, are both positive strategies. Youth
have also served as full members on library guidance committees.
- Youth Voice is for After-School Programs: Programs that affect young people most can engage young people most
effectively, purposefully, and deliberately. After school programs for
children and youth can focus on Youth Voice, responding to what young
people see as their most pressing needs and fulfilling their grandest
dreams. Rather than adults designing programs from their imaginations,
program coordinators are looking to youth for inspiration, guidance,
support, and leadership. Many programs have engaged young people as
program planners, project leaders, and as program evaluators.
Youth Voice Is For Government
While youth programs and schools are logical places where Youth Voice
happens, there are more public places where it is increasingly essential
to infuse children and youth as partners with adults.
- Youth Voice is for City Hall: Local governments are in the unique position of being able to foster and
support Youth Voice as a benefit the whole community. Many towns and
cities have created youth advisory councils where Youth Voice measures
the impact of regulations and laws affecting youth. Other municipalities
have actually created positions for young people on existing committees
including parks and recreation, libraries, and community planning.
- Youth Voice is for Government Agencies: Young people can be effectively engaged by local and state government
administrators who are committed to serving communities. Research,
program planning, budget decisions, and other activities have each been
completed by children and youth serving on special committees,
advisory boards, action councils, and in youth staff positions.
- Youth Voice is for the State Legislature: A growing number of politicians, lobbyists, and state government
officials are relying on Youth Voice to make their policy decisions more
effective, responsive, and inclusive of their constituents.
- How often do young people actually think about, share, and act on their
ideas, knowledge, opinions, and experiences in these places?
- Where should Youth Voice be that it is not right now?
- Are the differences between types of communities important enough to note?
- How does Youth Voice need to change for your communities?
- What communities are missing from the Youth Voice conversation in general?
Want more resources? Visit The Freechild Project Youth Voice Toolkit!