When young people are telling their stories in advocacy efforts, it’s incredibly important to ensure that they know what to share and, more importantly, what not to share.

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Strategic Sharing

Before you begin sharing your story, however, you need to think about what to share—and what not to share.

As explained in the excellent Strategic Sharing factsheet created by the National Resource Center for Youth Development, “Strategic sharing means you need to be clear about what you will say. Your first goal is to protect yourself, other people who might be involved in your story, your audience, and your personal story. You’ll want a plan. You’ll want control about what parts of your story you want to let out and what to hold back.”

What to Share

The National Resource Center for Youth Development recommends thinking about your experiences using a green light, yellow light, red light lens. Green light items are things you can tell anyone. Yellow light experiences are those you want to be cautious about and perhaps talk over with others before sharing. Red light means don’t share. For example, we at NACAC don’t think there’s ever a good reason to bring up specifics about abuse in a youth advocacy presentation. It can be too painful for the speakers, but also can be a trigger for other youth in the audience. In most cases, these speaking opportunities don’t offer time for healthy resolution or exploration in a therapeutic setting.

The tricky thing is that young people may be quite willing to talk about their abuse history for a couple of reasons:

  • First, we’ve found that young people involved in these networks can develop such strong bonds with each other that they may feel more comfortable than they should sharing personal information with a group of strangers.
  • Second, young advocates may feel that their self-worth stems from their ability to contribute to whatever topic is being discussed. In the past, they have been praised for sharing particularly emotional stories. This combination of factors can make it more likely that a young person will over-share details of their story that they have not have fully processed yet or shouldn’t be sharing publicly.

Those hosting a youth panel should get to know their speakers well and help them identify if something might be too hard. You need to help set guidelines about what and how much to share. We also recommend having really good communication with your youth team so that you can be aware of topics that are more challenging for each individual. During the presentation, you also need to have a strategy to respond to protect a young person if something comes up—perhaps by having the moderator offer an example from their life or telling another person’s story. Finally, it’s really important to take the time after a presentation to support your speakers and make sure they are OK.

Preparing Young People to Speak

As an adult supporter it’s incredibly important to make sure that the young people you invite to participate in an event or to share their story are adequately prepared. NACAC—like many other organizations—has a training that’s specifically designed to help young people communicate their experiences and insights in a safe and effective way. When we choose people for panels such as that at the conference, we weigh the young person’s interest, availability, and previous advocacy experience. We also try to choose a diverse group of speakers, including gender and racial and ethnic diversity but also diversity of experiences and stories. Before we choose a panel, we get to know the young people and ask what they most want to share with others. Then we consider how those aspects of their stories will convey the messages we think our audience most needs to hear and how the individual stories can paint a larger story of many others who have been in care.

Part of the preparation includes sharing strategies for not answering a question that doesn’t feel right. The moderator should always be ready to gracefully deflect or respond when a question from the audience might make a youth uncomfortable. But young people need to know they don’t have to answer anything they are not comfortable with. Simple deflections can include:

  • “That’s an interesting question, but…”
  • “I’m not comfortable answering that question…”
  • “I don’t feel that is an appropriate question…”
  • “Why would you ask that…”

It’s also great to share questions with the young people in advance and help them identify which parts of their stories may be most persuasive for given advocacy effort. And perhaps most importantly, the leader needs to take the time to establish a relationship with the young people before they speak publicly so they trust her to look out for their best interests and help them shine.

Here are a few additional resources for leaders working with parents and youth who may be sharing stories or participating in panels:

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