Youth advocacy is a tool increasingly used to engage youth in promoting positive community changes. In a literature review on the topic, Shawna Hite and Kayla Oberstadt highlight youth-adult partnerships, which go above and beyond to include youth as active and responsible leaders (1).
While adults traditionally view youth as a population in need of rules and guidelines to induce certain behaviors, youth advocacy and youth-adult partnerships focus instead on youth becoming dynamic agents who can spark positive change in their own environments and personal lives (2,3). This sort of youth involvement can have a positive effect on the community by providing fresh perspectives, allowing for a better insight into how youth view community issues, and ultimately creating change that youth can encourage both now and in the future (4,5).
The key to effective youth-adult partnerships is placing value on youth input and respecting their ideas in relation to community programs and decisions; however, youth must also be properly trained in communication, leadership, and community health issues (5,6). Without these skills and knowledge, it is difficult for youth to communicate with adult leaders and remain active participants at the forefront of change in their own communities.
Youth advocacy benefits communities, as well as the youth participants themselves. As they are trained in advocacy, leadership, and communication, youth develop valuable life skills, a sense of empowerment and worth, and a desire for civic engagement (7,8). While engaged as active leaders in their community, youth are also given the solid foundation to become role models to their peers and successful leaders in the future.
There are a few barriers that inhibit the success of youth-adult partnerships on both sides of the relationship. One challenge can arise if adults expect too little of the involved youth or fail to show them respect, making it difficult for a positive working relationship to exist in youth-adult partnerships (8). Furthermore, adults regularly describe a difficulty in finding a balance between leading youth partners and giving them necessary independence (9). To overcome these obstacles, it is imperative for adults to see youth as equal partners in advocacy while also being available to give adequate guidance.
In the context of fighting childhood obesity, the Alliance for a Healthier Generation reported that young people are in an optimal position to help adults combat the epidemic. This organization has developed a positive youth development framework that focuses on the strengths and positive contributions of young people-- not on their problems. The guide embraces the benefits of youth advocacy for both the community and young people themselves, and seeks to overcome the challenges described above (10).
Overall, Hite and Oberstadt make a few recommendations: increase the use of youth advocacy across our adult-centered systems, educate adults involved in youth advocacy on beneficial youth-adult relationships, educate adults on the need and benefit of youth advocacy, and finally train adult partners to recognize leadership techniques that are and are not conducive to youth advocacy initiatives. With these actions, agencies can effectively incorporate youth advocacy to address issues such as childhood obesity in the communities they serve (1).
McKenzie Caldwell, Cornell University
Shawna Hite, MPH, Ohio State University Extension
Kate Oberstadt, MA, University of Wisconsin Extension
Hite, S. and Oberstadt K. (2015). The importance of leadership in youth advocacy and youth-adult partnerships. AEE 8420 Issues Paper, Ohio State University.
Ribisl, K. M., et al. (2004). The North Carolina Youth Empowerment Study (NC YES): A Participatory Research Study Examining the Impact of Youth Empowerment for Tobacco Use Prevention. Health Education & Behavior, 31(5), 597-614. doi: 10.1177/1090198104268550 X
Carver, V., Reinert, B., Range, L. M., & Campbell, C. (2003). Adolescents' attitudes and self-perceptions about anti-tobacco advocacy. Health Education Research, 18(4), 453-460. doi:10.1093/her/cyf030
Millstein, R. A., & Sallis, J. F. (2011). Youth advocacy for obesity prevention: The next wave of social change for health. Translational behavioral medicine, 1(3), 497-505.
Kaufman, L.R. (2011). Promising youth development strategies: community youth mapping, a tool for youth participation and program design. Academy of Educational Development.
Fletcher, A. (2011). Ladder of youth voice. The Free Child Project. Retrieved from: http://www.freechild.org/ladder.htm
Stoneman, D. (2002). The role of youth programming in the development of civic engagement. Applied Developmental Science, 6(4), 221-226. doi:10.1207/S1532480XADS0604_9 X
Christens, B.D. & Dolan, T. (2011). Interweaving youth development, community development, and social change through youth organizing. Youth & Society [On-line], 43(2) pp. 528-548. doi:10.1177/0044118X10383647
Ramey, H. L., & Rose-Krasnor, L. (2015). The new mentality: Youth–adult partnerships in community mental health promotion. Children & Youth Services Review, (50)28-37. doi:10.1016/j.childyouth.2015.01.006
Alliance for a Healthier Generation (2013). Youth engagement guide. Alliance for a Healthier Generation inc. Retrieved from:https://www.healthiergeneration.org/_asset/tmby3k/youthengagement_guide_v8-2.pdf