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Youth Voice: The Difference Between Empowering Youth and Emboldening Them

Originally posted here by America’s Promise Alliance on October 2, 2017

MYC members at the Capitol

Many young people today are aware of the tools that amplify our voice—social media being the most prominent—but most of us don’t see the point in using them. After all, who cares what young people think?

It’s not enough to empower youth by giving them the tools to speak, adults must also embolden young people by giving them the confidence and courage to use them.

Here’s how my time on the Minnesota Youth Council (MYC) provided me with both.

When Legislators Actually Listen, It’s Emboldening

The MYC allows young people to attend legislative hearings, where we study a bill and then have the opportunity to really grill the author. Afterward, we provide constructive criticism, further questions, and other thoughts in a letter.

What is so emboldening about this experience is that we know that the legislators pay attention to what we have to say, at least some of the time.

For example, the new civics test that will be rolling out in the next few years will look much different than the original versions, and we take some duly deserved credit on that.

Knowing that many legislators will listen to a young person at these hearings has led me to believe that they might listen to my opinion in other areas. I have since felt emboldened to contact my elected officials about issues that do and do not relate to young people.

Why More Young People Should Have a Say in Crafting Legislation

The Minnesota Youth Council also works wonders with empowering students, myself included, giving them the tools to voice their opinions and effect change.

Sometimes I have to take a step back and think, “Wow, I really did help to survey hundreds of students from around the state and use the results to craft an omnibus bill that was introduced.”

It often seems that many members of society do not care about young people’s opinions. However, it is these voices and opinions that often are the most important and most informed.

Adults creating laws that impact youth is like a 12-year-old picking out a health insurance plan for their parents. The kid doesn’t quite know or understand exactly what mom and dad might need just like our elected officials may not understand exactly what the students in our schools need for a great education.

With my experiences on the MYC, especially our legislative hearings, I have gained the courage and the confidence to use my voice. I can only hope more adults listen.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jacob Schimetz graduated from Anoka High School in Minnesota this past spring, where he also served on the Minnesota Youth Council (MYC) Policy Committee.

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