Youth thrive when adults support and encourage “youth voice”

Adults can help youth thrive by encouraging youth voice and establishing a positive relationship with them.

Helping youth identify and nurture “sparks,” encouraging youth voice and developing positive relationships between youth and adults are three important components of helping youth thrive identified by the Search Institute. Identifying and nurturing sparks was explored in the first article “Youth thrive when adults support and nurture their ‘sparks.’" Youth voice and positive relationships with adults are the focus of this second article.

“Teens need confidence, skills and opportunities to influence things that matter to them in their lives, their families, their communities and their world,” according to the Search Institute’s Teen Voice 2010 Study. The teen voice index portion of the survey measured experiences in teens’ lives related to leadership, personal power, comfort expressing voice, community problem solving and civic involvement. Only 22 percent of teens surveyed scored high on all of these elements. Fifty-six percent indicated they had the personal power to make good things happen in their own lives. Fifty-five percent felt at least somewhat comfortable suggesting activities to adults and sharing their ideas with adults.

Parents play a vital role in helping youth thrive, but all caring responsible adults can make a positive impact on helping youth express their voice. The key for adults is to listen, value the opinion of youth and take the time to really get to know them. Youth are valuable resources to their families and communities, they just need to be esteemed and heard.

Youth organizations like Michigan 4-H, can help young people develop life skills, provide opportunities to express their voice and make a difference in their communities. When adults step back and allow youth to take the lead in 4-H clubs, encourage and assist them to take on teen leadership roles, be a club officer, a camp counselor or plan service learning projects, they are providing opportunities to build skills and confidence. The positive relationships that can develop over time between 4-H club leaders and members can help youth ignite their sparks, develop confidence to express their opinions and make a difference by being actively involved in their clubs and communities.

Michigan 4-H offers a variety of opportunities in addition to the 4-H club setting that can help youth thrive. These include 4-H Exploration Days,4-H Capital Experience, 4-H Citizenship Washington Focus and the 4-H Teen Leadership and Community Change Conference. These and the many other opportunities through 4-H can help youth with all three of the important components needed to thrive – sparks, youth voice and positive relationships with adults.