Are you an adult ally? Do you want to be an adult ally?

By: Carmen Fisher-Olvera, age 15, Intern at H.O.P.E. Works in Burlington, Vermont

Being an adult ally is very crucial to youth and children. The word “ally” means different things for different people. The most common response in a survey that I recently collected from children and teens ages 13-21, showed that respondents felt an adult ally was someone who was supportive.

These results demonstrated the important role adult allies play in the lives of youth and fellow young adults.  The responses of the children and teens were nothing but positive, regarding how an adult can affect their lives. How adults showed support, provided a person simply to talk and respect them.

To be the best adult ally, you need to be aware of some challenges in dealing with youth and young adults. In our society youth are traditionally viewed as irresponsible and uncaring. For instance, adultism is a set of behaviors and attitudes based on the assumption that adults are better than young people. Comments that imply that youth are too young and too inexperienced to be given any responsibility in making their own decisions or that devalue youths opinions are examples of adultism. Where youth feel adultism it creates a barrier in their relationship with adults.

Youth and young adults have a positive experience working with adults when they partner together and become more comfortable interacting with them.

How do you picture yourself working alongside the youth in your community?

Adult allies strive to:

  • Be a friend to young people and adults
  • Be open-minded
  • Be a good listener
  • Seek personal growth in spite of discomfort
  • Support youth in doing things for themselves
  • Believe that all people regardless of age, sex, race, gender, religion, ethnicity or sexual should be treated with dignity and respect

An effective Ally does not remove him or herself from the equation when difficulty arises. They recognize when to step in and when to step back, offering support from the sidelines.

Being an adult ally means trusting the youth or young adults. If a youth is working on a project, the adult should be able to become powerless, giving up all power in the situation to the youth.

Overall, what I’m saying is engage, encourage, and empower young people to take appropriate, purposeful, effective, and sustainable leadership on behalf of themselves.

Martin Luther King, Jr. said that living nonviolence requires us to, “rise above the narrow confines of our individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.” When applied to Youth in modern day, this means that encouraging or allowing young people to advocate for themselves is not enough. Adults who are committed to Youth must seek and take initiative to engage young people throughout our communities in issues affecting others. This way young people can see more than their own self-interest, and in turn actually become valuable, whole-community members.