A Rights-Based Assessment of Youth Participation in the United States

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Civic engagement is central to democracy, yet historically and today, the United States has excluded certain groups and denied them their participation rights. Even where there has been progress toward inclusion, young people have been largely excluded from meaningful participation in their communities. While there are historical and developmental rationales for this view of childhood, such an approach is suboptimal and even harmful in some cases. Equally important, this construct of childhood fails to recognize the full personhood of young people and see them as rights holders in our communities. This Article calls for greater recognition of young people as rights holders and, correspondingly, more robust efforts to foster meaningful youth participation in their communities, from the local to the national level. Drawing on our own work with children and adolescents and other research that shows children of all ages can contribute in developmentally appropriate ways, this Article argues that acknowledging young people as rights holders and creating and sustaining opportunities for meaningful youth participation would result in better outcomes for children and adolescents, their communities, and the country as a whole.

This Article employs a children’s rights framework to analyze youth participation in the United States. A children’s rights lens reveals several important points. First, it unpacks the cluster of rights that constitute meaningful youth participation, going beyond the narrow conception of participation as only the right to vote. Second, it reveals how far the U.S. legal and regulatory framework is from supporting children’s right to be heard in matters that affect their lives. Third, and perhaps most significantly, it provides the state and other stakeholders with a model and examples of ensuring meaningful opportunities for youth participation.


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Recommended Citation

Jonathan Todres, et al., A Rights-Based Assessment of Youth Participation in the United States, 95 Temp. L. Rev. 411 (2023).



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