Creating a place for youth voice at the table
Intentionally creating a space at the table where our community’s youth feel safe to share their voice and ideas helps shape them into active citizens who are open to taking positive risk and exploration to grow on a personal level.
Imagine it’s a holiday weekend and you have your whole family at your home for a grand feast. There is laughing, playing and the exchanging of stories. Multiple generations in one room, teaching each other, reminding each other of the joys of family. Now imagine the same celebration, but without any children. The laughter dies down, and the conversations are plagued with the toils of “the real world”.
In our personal lives we know that the young people of our families bring joy, a sense of wonder for the world, along with an untainted ability to ask questions that get right to the heart of the matter. We can acknowledge the value that young people bring to our dinner table, but they are very often excluded from other tables in our community where critical decisions are made.
Intentionally creating a space at the table where our community’s youth feel safe to share their voice and ideas, helps shape them into active citizens who are open to taking positive risk and exploration to grow on a personal level. This idea of a safe space requires time and energy put into trust and team building. Competence, connection and confidence are three of the five C’s of positive youth development noted by Lerner in Liberty: Thriving and Civic Engagement Among American Youth. As adults, we need to work to reassure youth that their perspective and ideas are valuable.
Michigan State University Extension recommends the following approaches that may be helpful in bringing youth voice to your community’s table:
- Have youth generate questions and facilitate group discussion- Even when youth are invited to the table, they might not feel empowered in openly sharing their thoughts or ideas. Changing the power dynamic so that youth guide and lead discussion can help them develop a competence in communications and conflict resolution.
- Have everyone at the table take time to evaluate their own contributions and perspective- Building in time for youth (and adults) to think about their experience at the table, both formatively and summatively, can help them grow their reflective skills and create opportunities for deeper learning. Sharing strengths and opportunities for the future openly with the group provides insight into others’ perspectives, resulting in deeper connections among the stakeholders present.
- Create opportunity for group brainstorming and public idea sharing- Having youth take responsibility for developing ideas, creating a plan with the group and then sharing the resulting plan with the broader community provides a lot of beneficial aspects that help youth develop a positive sense of self-worth. Publically claiming their voice, fielding and responding to questions, and openly asking for feedback are all examples of necessary pieces of a public presentation that help youth develop confidence.
Bringing youth and adults together in partnership, where youth and adults share equally in decision-making power, can result in powerful benefits for youth, but also bring benefits to the adults and greater communities involved. Another MSU Extension article, “Benefits of Youth-Adult Partnerships: Working Together at the Table”, looks deeper into the adult, youth and community benefits of these partnerships.