Let Them Have a Voice

by Natalie G.

When you were a youth, did you feel like you had a voice? Or have you ever worked with youth and allowed them to voice their ideas/opinions? To begin, “youth voice lacks a consistent conceptualization, it ideally refers to the process by which youth not only have the opportunity to communicate but are exposed to adults who value and respect their message (Weybright, Trauntvein & Deen, 2017, p.3). Letting youth have a voice leads to positive youth development outcomes such as helping them feel valued, developing autonomy and identity, articulating ideas to others and helping them learn to work with adults (Shannon-McCallum, 2017). There is not much literature on the benefits of youth voice; however, research by Weybright et al. (2017) supports how coaches and recreation leaders can create youth-adult partnerships which relate to helping youth learn to work with adults.

From a personal experience, I have worked with youth for two summers and the leaders and I would ask the kids at the beginning of program what they wanted to do for the summer. With their input, it helped us create exciting schedules with lots of field trips and games for them, as well as, created a youth-adult partnership. Giving them the voice for their summer made the children look forward to program each week. On the other hand, this was not the case when I grew up in a daycare. Our voices were not heard. We were scheduled with lots of structured play and field trips, but never given the chance to express what we, as children, really wanted to do and never created that youth-adult partnership.

Youth-adult relationships are about youth learning to work with adults and “Prior research indicates youth who participate in a youth-adult partnership experience greater empowerment, psychological agency, and community connectedness while developing problem-solving, and decision-making skills “ (Weybright et al., 2017, p.4). Within recreation and sport, this outcome can be achieved if coaches and recreation leaders give youth the experience to express their thoughts or opinions into planning while youth achieving greater empowerment, connectedness in their community and/or with coaches while gaining positive youth development outcomes. An example is “often coaches assign responsibilities to certain players (i.e., team captains) to organize and run portions of practice or team functions. Soliciting increased involvement from team members and allowing them to be more involved in the decision-making process can lead to greater individual empowerment, psychological agency, and a stronger connection to the team” (Weybright et al., p. 11). This engagement the coach has created has produced positive youth development outcomes such as identity and work with others.

Now that youth programs and camps are realizing research about youth voice is beneficial to the youth, it is starting to become more common in camps and programs, including the one I worked for the past two summers. For the future, I believe it is best to make sure when you are working with youth to give them a chance to voice themselves to achieve positive youth development outcomes.


Personal Experiences
Shannon-McCallum, C. (2017). Youth Voice. RSS 3223
Weybright, E., Trauntvein, N. & Deen, Mary K. (2017). “It Was Like We Were All
Equal”: Maximizing Youth Development Using Youth-Adult Partnerships. Journal of Park and Recreation Administration, 35(1), 5-19.

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4 Responses to Let Them Have a Voice

  1. bleblan3 says:

    Good read Natalie, first of all I would like to propose the idea that the connection to camp life and daycare are, in my opinion, different settings. Albeit I see the proposed idea as being about the chance to express interests from the youth. I offer a different alternative if you are to ever go back to leading camp activities. Get them in a large group, get them to write on a piece of paper on what they want to do (individual and team), what their friends may want to do (not necessarily at the camp), and what their parents may want them to do. Again these are simply suggestions because to me a voice refers to the values, opinions, perceptions and so much more. The reason I say this is because of the evidence that supports your blog. There is substantial evidence that backs up the theories that free expression allows for positive development emotionally and socially to a substantial degree. A lot of what I hear from fellow students is that they give the chance to say something to the group, but to truly feel comfortable as a child is very rare, and us as leaders must look to offer that chance in any way we can.
    Just some thoughts!
    -Ben LeBlanc

  2. agreggnb says:

    Great article Natalie. It is very important that youth feel as though they are valued. We have discussed in class how younger generations are now more socially connected than previous generations. By allowing the youth to participate in the program planning they may feel as though they are playing an important role in the process. This will also help to make the activities they play feel more angaging and rewarding, since they helped to develop them. If you were to put your experiences as a leader, working with the youth summer camp on Roger Hart’s, 1992, ‘ladder of young people’s participation’, which rung would you put your experience on? It sounds to me like the youth in that program have benifited greatly from the initiative, and have developed many of the 40 assets of positive youth developemt.

    Alec G.

  3. taylorhebb16 says:

    Great Blog Post Natalie,

    As we know from class, youth voice is important for the development of youth. It can provide the opportunity for youth to feel a sense of purpose, build their self-esteem and their personal power as well as provided them with a positive view of their personal future.
    Allowing youth to voice their opinions, views and feelings in different scenarios that allow for their voice to be heard and understood can grant youth with the ability to develop strong youth development assets. It can also provide them with a greater passion for what their speaking for. Having the opportunity to have your voice heard and understood can make the activity seem more important and may make youth develop a greater passion for the activity.
    Youth voice is not only important for youth to benefit from, it is also important for youth leaders and adults to listen and encourage it. The world of recreation and sport is changing compared to what it was ten years ago. If leaders and coaches constantly do the same activities they been doing for years, it can become repetitive and boring for youth and may even cause youth to have a negative experience with the program. As leaders encouraging youth voice it can provided leaders with the opportunity to create strong well-developed programs that youth enjoy and can learn from. Building programs that youth have provided their opinion on can encourage youth to participate and become active in a program. It can help leaders tailor activities to better suit the needs of youth and provide a safe and positive environment for youth to develop and build their youth development assets. -TH

  4. Kunderhi says:

    Great points Natalie! I agree that structured play is an important component for youth play. However, you do not gain that strong youth-adult relationship like you do when adults give youth voice, and give them a sense of value. Like you said, youth who have positive adult-youth relationships gain greater problem-solving and decision-making skills than those youths who do not. Problem solving and decision making skills are essential in youth development. From my personal experience, I coached U8 and U10 soccer and one of my responsibilities was to organize practices. The hardest part about running these practices was trying to keep the youth involved and interested in every drill. Nevertheless, I discovered that using the self-determination theory helped to overcome this. By giving youth a chance to voice their opinions and a sense of autonomy in which drills we did, or letting picking their own teams, etc., I saw a big difference in their desire to participate.

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