Youth-adult partnerships involve multiple youth working together with multiple adults to address issues that are important to the overall health of people, groups and communities. A goal of these partnerships is to stimulate youth to develop social responsibility – a crucial factor in the promotion of health and well-being. Research in youth-adult partnerships shows that not only do youth benefit from these kinds of partnerships but adults, organizations and communities benefit as well. This type of youth-adult collaboration can be empowering as issues of trust, power and authority are addressed through these relationships, and youth and adults are expected to learn from each other.
Developing youth-adult partnerships is a great way to strengthen bullying prevention efforts. Research shows that when young people have strong connections and relationships with adults they are more resilient. For many young people and adults, those connections, relationships and partnerships can develop through their involvement with the 4-H Youth Development Program. As a partnership between USDA and the Cooperative Extension Service in positive youth development, 4-H empowers youth to reach their full potential, working and learning in partnership with caring adults.
Bullying efforts are particularly suited to youth-adult partnerships. Young people often know the most about these issues because they are the ones most impacted by mean-spirited, hurtful language and behaviors, and the climate of fear that is created when bullying, bias and harassment go unaddressed.
More than tokenism or involving one or two young people on a board or committee, youth-adult partnerships involve youth in significant, authentic, and meaningful ways.
Tips for Creating Meaningful Youth-Adult Partnerships
- Work with youth in authentic and meaningful ways that tap their wisdom, knowledge, abilities, and skills.
- Involve them as co-creators, co-planners, co-facilitators and co-learners in ways that account for their “place of readiness” and that avoid adultism.
- Offer youth opportunities to develop and practice skills that will serve their own positive development as well as contribute to the overall development of your group.
Developing youth-adult partnerships can also be a powerful strategy for addressing adultism, as many anti-bullying efforts are adult-driven and grounded in adultism. According to John Bell of YouthBuild USA, adultism is the assumption that adults are better than young people, and that adults are entitled to act upon youth without their agreement. While youth need healthy support and guidance from adults, adultism can actually disempower youth. Young people consistently report that the messages they get from the adult world are that they are not as important, are not taken seriously, and that they have little to no power.
Rather than relying on stereotypes of youth, labeling them as bullies or victims, or trying to regulate their behaviors through disciplinary consequences, adults can strengthen their anti-bullying efforts by tapping the assets, strengths and wisdom of young people by partnering with them to develop solution strategies. Adults are encouraged to work in sustained partnerships with youth to address the complex issue of bullying – and to create settings that are safe, affirming, and fair for all youth and adults. Whenever you can, consider ways to involve youth (or older teens) as co-creators and co-facilitators of your efforts – and explore ways that youth and adults can work together for positive change around these issues.