May 30, 2023

Centering Youth Voice: Reflections from a Youth-Led Tobacco Control Workshop

A summer playbook inspired by keynote activities shared at the 2023 Kentucky Youth Tobacco Control Workshop.

Keynote supplies, including the expanding ball for Balloon Breath.

The theme of my September recap from the fall 2022 Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids Youth Advocacy Tour was intentionality – asking ourselves how we intentionally share power with youth and create space for their creative ideas.

I had the honor of collaborating with the #iCANendthetrend Youth Advisory Board to develop and deliver a keynote presentation for the 2023 Kentucky Youth Tobacco Control Workshop. My topic was sharing your passion.

As I reflect on the conference and workshop, another word comes to mind for me – intersectionality.

If this term is new for you, don’t worry! The Trevor Project has a great analogy:

“Think of it [intersectionality] as a gemstone that has many sides each appearing as you rotate it in your hand.  Every single side you see reveals different angles of the stone’s face, but they all connect…”

To encourage young people to share their passion requires us to appreciate and acknowledge the unique facets of their lived experiences and identities. My approach to the keynote presentation was to flip the script. Rather than a group listening to one person, it would be a series of activities that would give attendees an opportunity to share all the amazing facets that make them unique.

As we celebrate World No Tobacco Day on May 31, enter Pride Month in June, and start summer programs, below are activities from my keynote that I hope give you a simple playbook to help youth in your life appreciate their uniqueness and share their passion.

Activity 1: Celebrating What Makes Us Awesome

What is it?

A do-it-yourself take on the Healthier Generation Identity Map worksheet.

How to do it

  1. Provide each young person a blank sheet of paper.
  2. Ask youth to draw a large circle on the paper and a smaller circle in the center.
  3. Invite youth to write their name or illustrate themselves in the center.
  4. Ask youth to then fill the larger circle with words and drawings that answer the question, “why am I awesome?” From hobbies and talents to culture, family, and geography, anything goes!
  5. Once everyone has completed the activity, invite youth to share something they’re proud of from their worksheet.

Why I love it: This is a great team-building activity and get-to-know-you exercise, especially if you’re back in person for the first time or opening a summer program or camp. It also creates an opportunity to identify and support youth from specific communities, including Hidden Helpers – youth serving as caregivers for veterans.

Cost: Minimal – paper and pencil.

Activity 2: Balloon Breath with Expanding Ball

What is it?

A hands-on version of the Healthier Generation Virtual Me Moment: Balloon Breath.

How to do it

  1. Introduce the activity as a breathing exercise - perfect for stressful moments.
  2. Give a youth volunteer the expanding ball and explain that as they expand the ball, everyone will take a slow deep breath in. As they shrink the ball, everyone will exhale slowly.
  3. Challenge the youth volunteer to go as slow as possible.
  4. Do at least five breaths together as a group.
  5. Ask participants to share a word that describes how they feel after the activity.

Why I love it: It is essential that we teach regulation strategies like deep breathing to young people and educators. Depending on the level of adversity and trauma we’ve experienced, self-regulation is even more important to manage stress. When I polled the attendees to find out who enjoyed public speaking (essential to sharing your passion), one person raised their hand. Balloon breath is a great tool to support youth as they share their story, advocate, and influence others.

Cost: Under $10 for one expanding ball.

Activity 3: Mix and Mingle

What is it?

A movement-based strategy that encourages communication and sharing.

Youth reflection on why their voice matters.

How to do it

  1. Share that you’ll be leading a reflection activity called Mix and Mingle.
  2. When you say “go,” everyone will move around the room and touch elbows or give high fives.
  3. When you say “stop,” everyone finds a partner or group of 3 to share and discuss a reflection question.
  4. I always say that folks can work solo too if they just want to reflect on their own.
  5. During the Kentucky Youth Tobacco Control Workshop, the question youth discussed was, “Why does the voice of Kentucky youth matter?”
  6. Depending on group size, multiple rounds of Mix and Mingle can be played for a single question.
  7. Extension: when Mix and Mingle is over, discuss conversation highlights as a group. It’s a great way to crowdsource ideas that can be reshared with the full group.

Why I love it: This conference brought together youth groups from across the state. It’s natural for groups to stick together at large events, so Mix and Mingle gave them a low-risk opportunity to connect with others outside of their home group. If you have outdoor space available like we did, it’s a great way to get folks moving outside when the weather is nice.

Cost: Free!

Activity 4: My Best Self Sculptures with Gallery Walk

What is it?

An arts-based version of a Healthier Generation Me Moment, My Best Self.

“My Best Self” sculptures from the keynote activity.

How to do it

  1. Distribute air-dry clay on tables and provide cardboard or a surface for youth to work on.
  2. Invite youth to sculpt an answer to the question, “I’m my best self when…”
  3. At the Kentucky Youth Tobacco Control Workshop, we did this activity in 15 minutes, but it could go longer or shorter.
  4. Encourage youth to do this activity any way they like – no rules. Be prepared to encourage youth and remind them that everyone is creative.
  5. When the group has completed their sculptures, invite youth to share and describe their creations. Typically, several participants will want to share.
  6. Modification: At another conference, I led this as a rainbow walk; I called out colors and asked folks to share if their sculpture was predominantly that color.

Why I love it: Art activities are restorative, and it supports different learning styles. For the Kentucky conference, the keynote was at the end of a long day – most attendees had traveled early that morning. This hands-on activity gave them a moment to rest and reflect. The sculptures also create a great take-home souvenir and something they can photograph for social media.

Cost: A box of 50 pieces of air-dry clay costs around $20. You can also make your own clay with this recipe from Too Small to Fail.

Activity 5: Elevator Speeches

What is it?

An activity to help youth answer the question, “How was the [event, conference, activity]” when they return home.

How to do it

I asked attendees to write down their answers to three questions:

  1. The Kentucky Youth Tobacco Control Workshop made me feel ___.
  2. I learned ___ at the Kentucky Youth Tobacco Control Workshop.
  3. After the Kentucky Youth Tobacco Control Workshop, I will ___.

Why I love it: It’s our role as adults to set young people up for success. No matter the experience or event, taking time to help youth prepare to share their feelings and observations when they go home or talk to others makes any event more impactful.

Cost: Minimal – paper and pencil.

How will you center youth voice and celebrate the uniqueness of young people in your life this summer and beyond? Tag @HealthierGen on Twitter or @healthiergeneration on Instagram to share your plans!

Are you an educator or caregiver who’s interested in tobacco prevention and cessation? In partnership with CVS Health Foundation, Healthier Generation has free tools to help strengthen district policies, support tobacco-free environments, and prioritize the use of restorative practices. Learn more at our Tobacco-Free and Vaping-Free Resource Hub.

Daniel Hatcher

Senior Director, Strategic Partnerships | Alliance for a Healthier Generation