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

places are all over:

  • 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
    young patients
  • Community centers and
    neighborhood associations are
    young people
  • 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
    a difference.
  • 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.

Critical Questions

  • 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!

Published by Adam F.C. Fletcher

I'm a speaker, writer, trainer, researcher and advocate who researches, writes and shares about education, youth, and history.

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