Working with youth is both challenging and rewarding, and for those of us who work with youth, we can’t imagine doing anything else. And why do we do this? Because we would like for youth to grow into adults who are economically self-sufficient, have positive relationships with family, friends, colleagues, and neighbors, and understand the importance of giving back to the community. Adults with these characteristics don’t happen by accident. They happen on purpose and one way to ensure this eventuality is to give youth opportunities to practice their voice and the right to make choices.
In the book, The Eighth Habit, (which by the way is not the forgotten habit in Covey’s 7 Habits) focuses on the importance of finding your voice and helping others to find a voice as well. While essential for adults the ability to have a voice doesn’t begin when you are 18, it begins when you are young and people not only listen to you but help you learn how to articulate your point of view. Sometimes this can be challenging because we have “stereotypes” of what sort of decisions and opinions certain aged youth should have. We need to remember that young people are not these stereotypes nor are they isolated snapshots, they are moving pictures and it is essential that we continue to encourage growth and development in each youth. So here are three tips to give youth voice and choice:
Create a Youth Leadership Council—engage young people intentionally in leading the program. Create a council and work with youth weekly. Be sure they have meaningful work to do, not just busy work.
Town Hall Meetings, Surveys and Focus Group Interviews —bring the youth together and have them talk about what they like best about the program and what they would like to change. To begin with you might want to do these Town Halls with individual classrooms with the goal of actually having a single Town Hall in which everyone participates. It is best to give youth some things to think about to begin with and then ask for other thoughts. Sometimes the list of topics or ideas will “prime the pump” and help youth think of other things they are interested in or have opinions about. You can ask about program components, homework assistance, and enrichment activities. All topics that you would like for youth to have input on should be discussed (not all at the same time but over the course of the year.)
Engage Youth In The Day To Day—young people can make announcements, organize activities, lead a debriefing session, teach a project, act as a learning buddy, and it goes on and on. Youth are able to do a lot. One of the most interesting observations I made was of Kindergartners teaching and coaching other Kinders. They were AMAZING and kudos to the leader who encouraged them to have a voice and choice.
Consult 4 Kids has some great videos on "Youth development"