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How do we get adults to take young people seriously?

Dear Friends,

My friend and colleague, Andre (and our newest member) and I were discussing yesterday some of the challenges we face here in London getting young people to want to participate in policy influence around issues that affect them.

Why? Well, we brainstormed some of the barriers - confidence, access, knowledge of how, trust from adults, a culture of complacency and the issue of youth participation being tokenistic and not meaningful. I just don't think that they believe they could really make a difference.

However I should really focus on the strengths, shouldn't I!  ;-)

Young people in the UK are passionate, smart and have amazing potential. This is a democracy, and youth participation is valued at a policy level - IN THEORY. The EU is putting in place some vehicles for youth to express their voice. 

I believe that the recent riots have provided an opportunity for more dialogue between the government and the young people here in UK. 

So how do we turn this into something more? How do we:

1. Engage the youth

2. Raise their capacity and confidence

3. Ensure the forums for their participation are appropriate and meaningful, and will lead to positive change



Do you have some nuggets of wisdom to share with us?


Thanks - Olivia

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First and foremost, adults need to wipe the slate clean before engaging the youth. Meaning they need to come with an open mind, putting aside for a while all that can prevent them from effectively listening to youth. We understand and respect that adults have vast knowledge and experience however most of it is from back then when things were different. Adults must realise that there are many ways of getting to a destination and not stick to traditional means all the time. Yes sometimes traditional ways are good however sometimes we need to walk a different route. Most of All, LISTEN...not just hear what youths are saying but LISTEN attentively.

Hi Michael. Thanks for your response. I really like your emphasis on Listen. IN formal situations such as developing policy, conducting research and making decisions, I am finding that listening to children and youth is probably one of the areas many adults struggle with. You are right about the need to be open to the new and innovative ideas that children offer..... these can be as effective, if not even more effective, than traditional methods. 

SALT is an obvious answer here, isn't it. The more we share the SALT approach, the more we can open up intergenerational conversations about issues that matter to young people. 

I'd like to see the SALT approach used here in the London to connect young people with policy-makers and the police, and have their voices heard. I can see this being really successful, but I'm hoping first to learn from others who have done something similar in their communities. Feel free to share any relevant experiences or stories to help us....

Thanks again.


The basic hindrance which i have experienced in youth leadership or youth adult partnership is taking the youth involvement in a tokenistic way .
Besides providing youth opportunity there is also profound need to give them authority to act , then we can expect that Adult could see youth from different lens :)

Wow Abhinav, this response has challenged me indeed!. I like your comment that young people must be given the authority to act, and not just "participate". Without this their participation could be perceived to be exploitative, as we see in the numerous examples of tokenistic youth involvement (e.g. big conferences, consultations etc).


So, to translate your comments into this practical example in London, our task now is to stimulate the adults (ie policy makers, police, service providers etc) to not only listen to youth voices, but also to allow them space to act as agents for their own change. 


To be honest with you, this will require a considerable cultural shift, both for the adults and the young people (who are not used to having such a level of agency). But it's an exciting prospect. 


From your experience, what are some useful mechanisms for empowering and engaging youth, especially when they have a history of being ignored? Do you think social networking has a role to play here? 


Looking forward to learning more from you!








Hi Zenita,


Oh dear. Our innocent, inquisitive and creative little brains gradually shaped and corrupted by our society's narrow rules and norms. You paint a bleak picture, albeit probably quite accurate :-)


I like your response, especially what you say about "unlearning". This is exactly what this issue is about, isn't it: Unlearning our assumptions and value-laden judgements so that we accept that there are other ways to view the world. 


The Art of Living program looks great, and I can see that it is very adaptable to many contexts, not just working with parents. Thnk you for sharing it. 


As you say, our youth are our future, so we must accept our responsibility to nurture their participation and hear their voices. I can't wait to see this dream realised here in London!







Young people should talk openly about the fact that there is no separate living and youngadults living separately. That the problems that are common to all of us and decide they canonly listen to one another. Otherwise, everyone will be fighting against a lot of problems and will not benefit from it. And young people should fight for equal rights uchastovat in solving all the problems of society on an equal footing with everyone else.

Hi Alexandr.

Great to meet you. I am so happy to have a response from Russia!!!!! Your english is amazing,  - I am happy that you didn't respond in Russian or I would have been lost! ;-)


You have raised an excellent point about adults and young people having common problems. Of course this means we also have common solutions! As you say, we need to work together and see that the world is not divided into "us" and "them", but instead we are all in it together. 


In London, many youth feel that they are ignored by government representatives and policy-makers. Also, the media often displays a very negative image of youth (e.g. during the Riots in August). So, this is our first challenge - we must stimulate these adults to believe in youth and to believe that they have the capacity to contribute to society. 


We also must raise awareness of the need for equal rights, as you have suggested in your message.


Have you seen this done successfully in Russia?  If so, I'd love to learn from you..... 







Hi Olivia!

I am very glad that my answer to you is interesting. In Ukraine there is a very similar situation with the youth. There was an attempt to create a scheme, where youth could deal with their problems by participating in decision-making process on higher level, which showed highly effective. The essence of this attempt is to establish a working mechanism of representing the interests of young people among policymakers and youth. This will ensure feedback between them and show how one understands the problems of others.

Here are responses from India Civil Society Facebook group


Abhinav Singh the basic hindrance which i have experienced in youth leadership or youth adult partnership is taking the youth involvement in a tokenistic way .
Besides providing youth opportunity there is also profound need to give them authority to act , then we can expect that Adult could see youth from different lens :)
October 28 at 6:57pm ·
November 2 at 12:40pm ·
Maheswar Satpathy Good effort Abhinav, seems to be a very important concern
November 2 at 1:09pm ·
Anand Chaudhuri Are Young People, Youth and Adolescent different or in a continuum? If so who will represent them in the dialogue with adults? What is the dialogue about? If it is topical then who will decide which YP, Y or A will be the best one. Who are Adults represented by? Why? Are we talking in a community context? Geographically located community or professionally linked as in a market situation...its complex isnt it?
November 5 at 8:26am ·
Maheswar Satpathy But, somewhere down the line the discourse has to start, and then we can gradually start monitoring and modulating all these factors as well.
November 5 at 8:57am ·
Anand Chaudhuri I have seen it happen in the drug HIV sector, we start with the most available represenmtatives who are not the ones who go thru any democratic process. Agencies identify those convenient and these spokespersons speak only for a few and ofetn in divergent tones...I am not pessimistic, only apprehensive of an animal farm note I talk of adults in the same vein....
November 5 at 9:58am ·

Hi and thanks for t=bringing up this interesting and topic issue; indeed child participation is becoming a key issue as we endeavour to develop our communities. It is a fact that we live in the same community as both adults and children and it is therefore only fair that the interests of both groups are taken into consideration when determining the vital components of development and other related human welfare intervention.

Children are relatively more than the adults and we would do well to empower them so that as a significant share of the community they exercise their democratic rights. Granted we need to provide guidance and nurture our children, but that does not take away their increasing potential to understand and make decisions regarding certain matters about them.

We are not there yet, but we surely need to continue empowering our children to take up their respective role in society. In my community in Northern Zambia and many other communities here, it appears we have effectively guided our children to silence on any issue that an adult has already established a position; Children are discouraged from arguing their point of view with an adult

I look forward to the continued sharing here that we might collectively find the ways to resolve this and empower the children to take part in the local community, national and international social and economic  agenda


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