Empowerment Is Not…

I think when adults tell us "you can’t do this" or "stop that" it makes you feel like you don’t have a say in the world and you’re just something that doesn’t matter.

– Elementary student

When we imagine young people taking power, we often envision youth rebellion. We may conjure up images of combative situations where some young people take power at the expense of others. We may also assume that when given the power of choice, young people will refuse to take on responsibility, to accept rules and to receive guidance from adults.

Empowerment is not about some young people winning or dominating others. It does not involve avoiding or refusing responsibility, nor does it imply an absence of rules, since any group of human beings working for a common cause need agreed-upon parameters to achieve their goals.

Furthermore, to achieve a state or a sense of empowerment, youth need access to respectful support from adults. Withholding or withdrawing our support would be a form of abandonment or neglect, since adult support is a basic need of young people and fundamental to their healthy development.

We tend to assign certain responsibilities to students based on things we need done that they can help with: library helper, hall helper. We give them this chance to show us they are responsible. But maybe there are other things they would like to do to contribute. We’re not giving them much power, we’re just wanting them as assistants. We give opportunities to participate based on our needs and interests, not on students’ interests.

– Elementary teacher