Youth-adult partnerships empower and develop leadership skills in youth – Part 3

Adult attitudes and behaviors can encourage or exclude youth from becoming a leader in youth-adult partnerships.

Youth organizations that value youth, encourage youth voice and provide genuine respect and opportunities for youth leadership development will be on the road to success in building youth-adult partnerships.   

The second article in this series looked at the spectrum of adult attitudes toward youth, which includes youth as objects, recipients, resources and partners. Adultism can be a barrier to moving along that attitude spectrum.  Adultism is showing disrespect of young people.  This happens when adults do not take youth seriously, treat them as less important and give no respect to their opinions. These adults believe they know what is best for youth and keep total control. 

There are times when adults do know best and need to give youth direction. Situations of youth safety are examples.  In youth organizations, there are great opportunities in safe environments to build shared leadership and inclusion of youth as partners.

According to John Bell, director of Leadership Development of Youth Build USA, “The set of behaviors, attitudes, policies, and practices that we have labeled adultism gets in the way of more effective youth-adult partnerships. It is useful to reflect on our interactions with young people for signs of unintended disrespect in tone, content or unspoken assumptions.”

The lesson youth organizations can gain from understanding adultism is for adults to genuinely value the talents and ideas youth bring and treat youth with respect through actions and words. Adults need to listen and provide opportunities for youth to have shared and meaningful roles.

Adult leaders need to share their knowledge and experience with youth setting them up for success in youth-adult partnerships. They need to provide the training to build the skills needed for youth to take on leadership roles. Clear roles and expectations need to be established that are high and realistic. 

Adults need to avoid the temptation of being the real power behind the scenes. It is okay and valuable to let youth figure some things out for themselves and learn through experience. Something that didn’t work in the past might be a great idea this time. A creative new idea might be just the thing to improve the old way of doing things. Adults need to avoid squashing ideas that might fail. Potential failure is difficult for adults to watch, but in safe situations, it is okay to allow for the possibility of failure. Having the expectation that youth are willing and able to take on responsibilities and follow through will help adults be able to work with and encourage youth to succeed through youth-adult partnerships.

Michigan 4-H  is an organization that has a strong history of including youth as active participants working with caring adult volunteer leaders in a safe setting while providing opportunities to learn life skills.  There are many opportunities for adult leaders to work with youth and move along the spectrum of adult attitudes with youth as objects, recipients, resources and partners.

A fourth article in this series will focus on the benefits of building a youth-adult partnership for the youth, adults and the organization. 

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