Supporting Adults to Amplify Youth Voice

Amplifying youth voice is a critical practice for supporting positive youth development, and is the pinnacle of the Pyramid of Youth Program Quality. It lies at the heart of Youth Voice Week, an annual celebration taking place this year from March 25-29, 2024, dedicated to uplifting the voices of young people – our current and future leaders.

Youth programs serve as rich environments for young people to exercise voice, agency, and decision-making skills. In our Youth Voice workshop, we quote educator Alfie Kohn:

“Youth learn how to make good choices by making choices, not by following directions.”

Achieving this requires the staff and volunteers who work directly with young people to cultivate their own skills to effectively share control, striking a delicate balance where young people feel supported and encouraged as they navigate their autonomy within the bounds of safety and structure. Effective youth workers foster true adult-youth partnerships that create genuine opportunities for adults and youth to work together to shape programs and activities. This kind of partnership helps young people to develop a sense of ownership and investment, leading to sustained engagement and participation – all of which support learning.  

An example of amplifying youth voice, shared by a 21st Century Community Learning Center program in Michigan, involves matching young people with college and career preparatory programs. Historically, the program staff found opportunities aligned to young people’s interests to match them with, such as an internship with a local pharmacy. This year, they flipped their approach by involving young people in surveys and group discussions about their interests before seeking out possible internships and programs. By allowing young people to drive decision-making processes, we encourage them to explore their interests, take on leadership roles, and develop critical skills such as strategic thinking and communication.

Importantly, the benefits of creating space for youth to share their thoughts and opinions extend beyond the individual level. Involving young people in program decision-making also strengthens our communities. It fosters more positive perceptions of young people among adults, leading to increased commitment and energy levels among program leaders. Additionally, programs become more attuned to the needs and interests of the youth they serve, ultimately nurturing stronger connections and partnerships within the community.

This Youth Voice Week lets recommit to the fundamental principle that every young person deserves to be heard. We can listen not only with our ears but with open hearts and minds, ready to embrace the diverse perspectives and ideas that young people bring to the table. Together, let’s create a world where the voices of young people are not just heard, but valued and acted upon.