We’ve all seen movies where an adult walks into a young person’s life and everything changes. There are heartfelt monologues, touching moments, and in the best of them, at least one inspiring musical number. While there is a special place in our hearts for these movies, the truth is that young people don’t need adults to save them—they need us to get out of their way. But that doesn’t mean there is no role for adults in youth movements. We need to get behind our young people, and use the power we wield to move their work forward.
How do we do this? We found inspiration in the source of life’s most important lessons: Harry Potter. Here are 7 ways you can get out of the way and get behind young people, brought to you by the cast of Harry Potter.
1. Be willing to be in your stretch learning zone
You’re going to be uncomfortable and challenged. Sharing power with youth or giving it up totally might be very uncomfortable for you. That’s okay. You’ll be amazed what you can learn when you get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Learn from stretching, learn what makes you uncomfortable, and resist the urge to go back to your comfort zone where you are in control and are making all the decisions.
2. Use your privilege for good, not evil
Let’s face it, some doors only open for adults. Use your privilege of being older to open the door, then hold it open for youth to step through. Make introductions when needed, set up appointments, secure permits, and sign permission slips.
3. Show up and back them up
Show up when young people need you. As youth make their plans, build a program, or design an event, do what they ask you to do. Give young people space to explore and work to find opportunities that bring out their strengths. Be the reliable adult they need you to be.
4. Close your mouth
Being an adult doesn’t mean you know everything. Use your active listening skills, and recognize that you’re not the star of the show. Put your ego aside and leverage your privilege and resources to move young people’s work forward.
5. Stand corrected
Recognize and correct yourself when you take control, talk over a young person, or fall back on traditional ways of relating to young people. Be OK when a young person calls you out, because they will. Be OK with calling yourself out and admit your mistakes.
6. Be authentic
Youth have AMAZING BS meters. They know immediately when someone is not showing up as their authentic selves, and will be slow to trust adult allies who aren’t walking their talk. So genuinely show up, participate, and be reliable partners.
7. Fail forward
Sometimes you will be tired and frustrated, and you’ll fall back on old habits. Be honest and acknowledge that you’re learning too, then take time to learn from places where you stumble.
Do you have tips to share about supporting youth leadership? Let us know in the comments!
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