If you work with or support positive youth development organizations, you’ve probably heard the phrase “youth voice” before. If you’re new to Camp Fire or the PYD movement, you could be wondering what the shorthand means…besides the obvious. You’re right in thinking “youth voice” goes way beyond just kid-talk.
What we mean when we say “youth voice”
Youth voice is a phrase that encompasses the belief that young people should be able to have the agency and necessary tools to identify their needs and take action to meet them. Programs for young people should be guided by input from young people themselves.
“Youth voice has always been at the center of everything Camp Fire does,” says Greg Zweber, President and CEO of Camp Fire National Headquarters. From our promise to our newest initiatives, youth voice plays an integral part in Camp Fire life.
What can you do to integrate youth voice into your home, school or program?
Youth voice means nothing if the adults aren’t listening. Work to create an environment where young people feel comfortable speaking up. Give them judgement-free space and time to reflect. Practice engaged, active listening, so kids know their opinions are valued.
We’re adults. We know things. We think. But young people have a lot to teach us. Instead of assuming we know how to solve a problem—or assuming we know what the problem even is—ask. What do you need? What do you care about? What bothers you? What are the possible solutions? What do you dream about? How do you think we can get there? How can I help?
If your organization has a leadership team or a governing body, make space for young people at the table. In addition to its National Youth Advisory Cabinet, Camp Fire is working to help individual councils start their own and add youth members to their Boards of Directors. This ensures Camp Fire stays on track to help young people thrive—on their own terms.
Memberships on boards and cabinets can’t be just symbolic. If we want to really serve young people, we have to also let them lead. It can be unnerving to step back and let kids try out their ideas, risk failure, and learn through experience. But all across the country, youth-led Camp Fire programs, from Teens in Action to self-directed WoHeLo awards, are doing just that. A big part of youth voice is empowering young people to take their ideas from input to execution.