Young people say that they have ideas but no one hears them. Last summer, I had a session with high school students and they said:
- School staffs don’t ask students their opinions or if they do ask, they don’t listen. They gave some examples including food service and a tardy policy.
- Students need to keep trying to make their voices heard.
Ask for an opinion
Listen to the answer
Repeat what was said
Don’t express your opinion
Ask why they think that is so
Thank them for sharing
Tell them that you now have new information to think about
1. Ask a bagger in a grocery store to help you with your groceries. On the way to the car, ask what he/she thinks about current event X (Examples are: A high school or college sports event, local water issue, Republican candidates, new name for Civic Center, etc.) Listen and follow above instructions.
2. Ask a young person in your life – your own child, a relative or a neighbor/friend what they think would keep kids from dropping out of school. Listen and follow above instructions.
3. Share with a teen a story you heard about a family falling on hard times – something from the news perhaps. Ask them what they think. Listen and follow above instructions.
4. Ask a young store clerk about a product – article of clothing, shoes, piece of sports equipment, etc. Find out their thoughts on the item – is it good quality? Reliable? Good value? Would they suggest something else? Listen and follow above instructions.
5. Ask a young person which professions or careers they think are the most respected. Listen and follow above instructions.
And if they say "I dunno…" try narrowing down the choices or reflecting it back out to you or to others – "I’m not sure either, but I bet lots of people have different opinions. I was just hoping you’d have one that would help me decide or at least think about it differently. What have you heard others say about it?"
I believe we have a wealth of information and viewpoints we aren’t considering sufficiently.
Asheville City Schools Foundation conducted a Listening to Our Teens project and used the ideas from the youth to design an after-school program at Asheville Middle School called "In Real Life". United Way conducted surveys of youth at Owen Middle School and used the responses to design an after-school program with the YMCA. And now both programs have waiting lists.
We need more examples of putting youth ideas into action. To do that, we have to ask and then listen.