Be Your Own AdvocateTeens
This article was written by the former chair of our Youth Advisory Board, Sarah Hinstorff, with contributions by Youth Advisory Board members Gaby Baum and Justin Robinson.
Champion Yourself: Be an Effective Personal Advocate
Part of growing up means learning how to advocate for yourself. It means knowing when to ask for help and recognizing when to speak up. It includes asking for and accepting more responsibilities. Sometimes it is about knowing when to plead your case.
As we begin to define our ideas and form our identity outside of our relationships with our parents, we must learn how to speak up for ourselves. This means thinking through our ideas and prioritizing the things that matter to us. It also involves being able to effectively communicate our feelings and needs.
The “I Statement” as a Tool for Personal Advocacy
Sometimes when we’re trying to get our point across, we need to consider reframing it in a different way. The “I statement” is a conversation tool that can be the first step in advocating for yourself. It reframes a tough conversation around your feelings and experiences. Rather than put the other person on the defensive, it opens the door for a back-and-forth discussion. It allows you to take responsibility for your side of things.
For example, if something seems wrong or unfair, you could use an “I statement” such as, “I feel that I earned this because…” or “I don’t think it is fair because…”. These statements will demonstrate maturity and allow you to advocate for yourself in a respectful way.
Other Ways to Make Yourself Heard
- Be willing to ask for help. Be willing to admit when you might be wrong.
- Make good eye contact.
- Speak with conviction, but don’t forget humility.
- Come with solutions, not just complaints.
- Ask good questions to show you’re really listening.
- Surround yourself with allies who will support you.
- If possible, try to build on what others have said, by saying something like, “I agree, but I also think….”
- Don’t completely take over the conversation. Make space for others to share their opinions.
Find What Works for You
Everyone has different strategies that will work for them. You need to find ways to express yourself where you are comfortable. Sometimes that might mean taking time to really think, writing your ideas down, and later coming back with, “I’ve been thinking about this and I have come up with some ideas.” Self-advocacy can take many different forms.
Practice Self-Advocacy Throughout Life
We demonstrate effective personal advocacy by remaining calm and rational, even during combative situations. When you can make your case without appearing confrontational or putting others on the defensive, you are more likely to accomplish your goals.
Staying calm under pressure takes practice. It’s natural to feel emotional — but you can’t let emotions drive your actions. It may take some intentional work to redefine the way you respond to conflict. But the effort will be worth it when you are able to speak up for yourself, gain understanding from others’ experiences, and seek help when you need it.
Knowing how to ask for the things you need in a respectful but firm manner is a skill that will serve you well in all aspects of your life. But learning how to speak up for yourself effectively is a skill that takes time to develop. Practicing with your teachers, parents, friends, and loved ones will prepare you to advocate for yourself in future situations with a life partner, co-worker, boss, or supervisor.
Thoughts From Members of the Youth Advisory Board
“Always be willing to listen if you expect them to be willing to listen to you. Healthy and productive conversations need to go both ways. In advocating for ourselves, we need to make space for other people to question or disagree. We need to express our opinions but remain open to other ideas. We also can’t assume others’ will be able to read our minds. We need to clearly communicate our feelings, needs, and concerns, and to provide backup information that explains why we are asking for certain things.”
“I’ve learned a lot about self-advocacy from my mom. I remember that in my freshman year of high school, my mom attended my parent-teacher conference. I was doing well in all of my classes except one (English). When my mom was at the meeting, she remained calm and composed, asking what I could try to do better. My English teacher said I was doing everything perfectly in the class and that I didn’t need to change anything. My mom was confused by the response. She knew I had room for improvement and saw the opportunity to find a solution. She offered suggestions like tutoring and extra work so I could grasp the concepts. My English teacher agreed and they came to a resolution. Watching my mom advocate on my behalf showed me how I need to advocate for myself. Like my mom, I knew that I could be doing better in class if I had a few more tools to help me. I didn’t realize that I could open those doors to opportunity by just asking my teacher for help.”