Youth-adult partnerships have many levels of youth involvement

Involving youth in decision-making is a process that is rooted in various levels of youth involvement.

The term “youth-adult partnership” refers to engaging youth and adults as equal partners in decision making. Michigan 4-H Youth Development emphasizes this concept in two of its seven guiding principles: “Youth are actively engaged in their own development,” and, “Youth are considered participants rather than recipients in the learning process.”

As explained in the 4-H Volunteer Information Series, engaging youth in decision-making partnerships with adults develops life skills in areas of leadership, planning and teamwork. Youth afforded the opportunity to make decisions in community organizations increase their commitment to and sense of pride in their community; they also increase their level of civic awareness. Youth develop stronger relationships with and increase their respect for adults, while gaining respect and validation from adults. All do this works to build their self-confidence.

The Innovation Center and National 4-H Council developed curriculum on utilizing Youth-Adult Partnerships: “Creating Youth-Adult Partnerships” and “Building Community: A Toolkit for Youth and Adults in Charting Assets and Creating Change.” The following four levels of youth involvement create a framework to understand how organizations utilize youth voice. As we move up the ladder, we engage youth in more meaningful ways and may achieve greater organizational benefit. A related Michigan State University Extension news article, “Benefits of Involving Youth in Decision Making Boards and Committees” examines the benefits to youth, adults and organizations in greater detail.

Youth as objects
In this perspective, adults decide what is best for youth and believe youth have little to contribute. An example of this might be in traditional classroom settings, where youth have no say in what they are learning and are simply being taught the materials.

Youth as recipients
Adults allow youth to be involved in limited or trivial decision-making processes from the perspective that “it will be good for them.” An example of this might be afterschool activities where youth are involved in limited decision-making within a structure determined by adults.

Youth as resources
In this perspective, at the other end of the spectrum, adults begin to welcome and value youth input. Youth begin to help adults in planning and implementing programs, however, adults often continue to make the final decisions. An example of this might be a community service activity that is planned by youth, with support from adults – such as a car wash or roadside cleanup.

Youth as partners
In this perspective, adults and youth share equally in decision making. Youth have the same voice and decision-making power as an adult, and all share equally in the discussion, planning and conversation. Further, adults feel youth are critical to the success of the program or project. An example of this might be a community board that involves youth representatives with equal voting privileges.

Think about programs with which you work. Could these programs benefit from authentic youth voices? Is there room to move up the ladder of youth involvement? Michigan State University Extension educators who focus on leadership and civic engagement are available to help community and 4-H groups move toward authentic youth-adult partnerships. Contact a team member for assistance at

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