Written by Hannah Howard | Evaluation Manager & Staff Advisor to the National Youth Advisory Cabinet | Camp Fire National Headquarters

What does “youth voice” mean to you? When young people apply to be a part of Camp Fire National’s Youth Advisory Cabinet (YAC), this is one of the questions we ask. Last year, their responses centered on two main ideas: adults listening and inciting change. 

Here are some of the things they said youth voice means:

 

“It means giving younger people a right to have their opinions and ideas heard on a subject that’s typically decided by adults”

“Youth Voice” should just be “Voice”. Each and every person has a voice and deserves to be heard, including youth.”

“To me, youth voice means change. The future is youth, and the opinions expressed now are a indication of how things will be in the near future.” 

“Youth Voice to me is something that can truly impact our future. Our youth [are] standing for so much change in the world so when we grow older and have our own children we bring them into a world we wanted and we made possible.” 

 

WE HONOR THE POWER OF YOUNG PEOPLEOne of Camp Fire’s eight core values is “We honor the power of young people” because we believe that involving youth in decision making is transformational. 

I can attest to this power through my experience with Camp Fire’s National Youth Advisory Cabinet. We recently reflected on the new updated rewards and recognition items we revealed as part of our #EmblemDrop 2022 as a group. Many of the youth on the cabinet had been involved in redesigning these items, either by participating in Make Your Mark or by offering color, shape, and theme suggestions on mockup designs in early 2022. However, there were some young people who were new to YAC this year. They hadn’t been involved in the process and were confronted with emotions around the new emblem rollout, including fears of old Camp Fire traditions being lost in the process. To say it bluntly, they didn’t like the changes. 

 

After working for two years on the new rewards and recognition items, it was difficult for me to sit in a youth-centered space and hear their opinions without becoming defensive. It would have been too convenient as an adult to dismiss their thoughts and explain away their worries saying how hard we had worked to gather youth perspectives on this topic. All the best youth development practices I knew in my brain didn’t keep me from feeling my feelings. But, I had to remember, I wasn’t the only person involved. These young people were sharing something very personal, about an organization and about traditions they felt deeply connected to. In a space where we had invited them to share those exact thoughts and feelings. So, I had to sit and listen in that space, even when all I wanted to do was defend. 

 

photo of young people smiling at camp

This is where youth voice is transformational – when adults listen first. By listening to the youth who hadn’t been a part of the process initially, we were able to grapple with cultural appropriation and camp traditions. Leaning into the Search Institutes’ framework around sharing power and providing support, we did some learning together, and then identified different ways they could take on a leadership role in talking about recognition items with their peers, through a more grounded understanding of the complex issues at play. We took time to meet with one of the youth outside of our monthly YAC meetings to develop a plan of action for them to talk to their council’s leadership about the rollout of the new emblems and empowered them to think about how they would like other youth to be involved in that process locally. This is the potential of youth voice – ideas, creativity, and enthusiasm. I had to learn that even by checking the right boxes, and including young people right from the beginning of the rewards and recognition process, there was more work to be done.

 

photo of young people smiling togetherAt the intersection of structured spaces for youth reflection, and adults who are trying their best to listen, true transformation can take place. Ideas go farther. 

 

Although there are many resources (some shared below) to implement youth voice, it happens best when adults like you and me give youth structured spaces to discuss things that are meaningful to them. Best said by a member of our Youth Advisory Cabinet: 

“Youth voice means young people giving their take on issues that impact them. It’s as simple as that.” 

How can you incorporate youth voice into what you do? How can you listen to young people? How can youth voice be a part of transformational leadership in your job, company or organization?  

Resources for Supporting Youth Voice