Why We Must Involve Young People In Decision-Making

From the Youth Strikes 4 Climate movement, to the March for Our Lives and Global March against child labour, student-led, youth movements provide a powerful message that their future is too important to be entrusted to adults who have failed to deliver.

Karen Lam, from the Social Change Agency, reflects on the fact that, while this is exciting, the danger is that adults continue to ignore the voices of young people and fail to recognise the role that they have to play in decision-making.

This is an age-old issue, and one that I have repeatedly encountered while working on The Social Change Agency’s Young Trustee Movement. It has led me to reflect on the common biases and perceptions of young people. Here I outline some of my thoughts around why it is critical to involve young people in meaningful decision-making.

1. Promoting inter-generational learning

Bringing together people across the age spectrum can promote greater understanding and learning across generations, and can increase mutual respect. Young people can learn from the experiences and knowledge of older people and vice versa. This will also create a virtuous circle where more youth participation challenges traditionally negative stereotypes of young people and at the same time, ageist assumptions about younger people, to help break down barriers between adults and young people to build positive connections and stronger communities.

2. Who knows best? Young people in service design and delivery

By including young people in designing policies and programmes that affect them, it is likely to be more effective and reflects and meet their needs. This avoids wasting time and money on services that young people don’t want to use. Too often, young people are treated as recipients when, in fact, they often know what is best for themselves.

For example, Our Minds Our Future Movement is led by young people in the UK  who are fighting for age-appropriate care in mental health services and a seat at the table in decisions about their care as well as what the mental health system looks like.

3. A better future for all

Ultimately, the youth of today are paving the way for the foundations of a better world. This does not only apply to policies that affect them directly now e.g. education but to decisions that impact the future such as the environment, culture and language, and representation.

In 2016 a series of controversial pipelines designed to deliver oil through the United States often running through or near Native American land drew opposition by youth organisers such as the International Indigenous Youth Council fighting for their future to access clean water and air.

Young language revitalization activists in Canada are fighting to keep indigenous languages and culture from dying out, demanding policy priorities to focus on more funding for language revitalization for future generations. While in the UK, Legally Blacka London-based campaign group are fighting to highlight issues such as under representation and misrepresentation of black people in the media.

From anti-corruption in Slovakia to Thailand’s student activism movement fighting for free speech, you can read more about the young activists shaping the future here.

Far from only being engaged in the 21st century, the youth have historically been involved in changing the world, read more about movements young people were instrumental in here.

2nd April 2019