Youth participation is the active engagement of young people throughout their communities. It is often used as a shorthand for youth participation in any many forms, including decision-making, sports, schools and any activity where young people are not historically engaged.
Youth participation, also called youth involvement, has been used by government agencies, researchers, educators, and others to define and examine the active engagement of young people in schools, sports, government, community development and economic activity.
In 1975, the National Commission on Resources for Youth in the United States defined youth participation as:
...Youth participation is the involving of youth in responsible, challenging action that meets genuine needs, with opportunities for planning and/or decision-making affecting others in an activity whose impact or consequence is extended to others— i.e., outside or beyond the youth participants themselves. Other desirable features of youth participation are provision for critical reflection on the participatory activity and the opportunity for group effort toward a common goal.
In 1995, the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) established a definition of meaningful youth participation as:
Meaningful youth participation involves recognizing and nurturing the strengths, interests, and abilities of young people through the provision of real opportunities for youth to become involved in decisions that affect them at individual and systemic levels.
In 2006 the Commonwealth Youth Programme and UNICEF remarked: "As there are many types of developmental processes, cultures and unique individuals in the world, participation is not any one phenomenon. There are various definitions of participation. A basic concept of participation however, is that people are free to involve themselves in social and developmental processes and that self-involvement is active, voluntary and informed."
In these forms, youth participation activities may include:
Youth participation often requires some measure of student voice or youth voice, as well as youth/adult partnerships. Results are often measured by youth development goals, academic outcomes or returns on social capital. They may take the form of civic engagement, youth rights or intergenerational equity.
Spectra of activities 
Working on behalf of UNICEF, in 1992 sociologist Roger Hart created a model for thinking about youth participation as a continuum of activities. Entitled the "Ladder of Participation," this spectrum identifies eight types of youth participation ranging from tokenism and manipulation to engaging youth as partners. Adam Fletcher of the Freechild Project has identified a range of youth participation in social change through his "Cycle of Engagement". David Driskell, another UN-affiliated researcher, has identified several "steps" towards youth participation, while Daniel Ho-Sang has analyzed models according to a horizontal continuum.
See also 
- Association of Young Americans
- Convention on the Rights of the Child, particularly Articles 5 and 12
- Community youth development
- One World Youth Project
- Youth empowerment
- youth movements
- Youth voice
- National Commission on Resources for Youth
- UNICEF/Commonwealth Youth Programme, both of which are focused on youth participation
- UNICEF/Commonwealth Youth Programme Participation Toolkits (2006) Book One p7
- Hart's "Ladder of Participation" is from (1992) Children's Participation: From Tokenism to Citizenship. UNICEF. For information regarding the Hart’s Ladder see this or this
- Fletcher, A. and Vavrus, J. (2007) Guide to Social Change Led By and With Young People. Olympia, WA: CommonAction Consulting. Retrieved 8/9/11.
- Checkoway, B. and Gutierrez, L. (2006) "An introduction," in Checkoway and Gutierrez (eds) Youth Participation and Community Change. New York: Hawthorne Press. p 3.
- The Podium: A Collegiate Journal, where tomorrow's leaders speak today
- The Wellspring, a web log about youth leadership opportunities in Australia and at the United Nations (UN).
- SpunOut.ie Irish National Youth Website
- toolkits (series of four, 2006)
- International Youth Leadership Network