Self-advocacy requires courage. It means speaking up even when it seems everyone else around you seems okay with the status quo. It means letting your teachers, parents, or peers know how you feel. It means communicating your needs and desires. Advocating for yourself means standing up for yourself!
Yet, self-advocacy takes some practice. Sometimes, it even takes remembering that you even have the option to stand up for yourself in the first place. This article will cover a few important skills so that you can get better at advocating for yourself!
Take Over for Your Parents
Your parents have been advocating for you your whole life. When they saw you were ill, they took you to the doctor and advocated for your physical health. When they saw you were not doing so well in school, they talked to your teachers and advocated for your educational health. When your parents saw that there were bullies at school, they talked to school administrators and advocated for your social health. The point is that your parents have been advocating on your behalf since you were born.
Now, it’s your turn. You’re getting older and approaching adulthood. When you move on to college or move out on your own, you’re going to have to advocate for yourself.
Now is a great time to learn self-advocacy. The following is a list of critical skills that can help you advocate for yourself.
1. Get to know yourself.
In order to advocate for yourself, you need to know what your needs and desires are. For instance, if you know that you want to be an artist but there is no art program at your school, then you can begin to speak up and advocate for one. However, this requires first knowing what you want. Perhaps this sounds obvious, but typically teens are still getting to know themselves. So, you might need some time to figure out what you like, what you don’t like, what’s important to you, and what’s not. When this is clear, that’s when you can become a strong self-advocate.
2. Learn your rights.
If you’re an LGBTQ teen, or an adolescent with a mental illness, then you have many rights that benefit you. For instance, if you have a disability, then you have the right to ask for a reasonable accommodation, such as a ramp to enter buildings if you’re in a wheelchair. There are legal rights for LGBTQ teens and there are medical rights for adolescents with a mental illness. The point is that depending on the issue you’re facing, there may be rights that exist on your behalf. It then becomes your responsibility to know those rights and advocate for yourself.
3. Get involved.
Once you’re more aware of the areas of your life you want to be more active in and when you know your rights, then you can become more involved. For instance, if you feel strongly about protecting the environment and you’ve learned about the rights of communities and individuals living in those communities, then you could be more involved in advocating for protecting the environment locally as well as on a broader scale. Getting involved might mean you work or volunteer for an agency that’s doing what you want to do. Getting involved might also mean writing an article for the local paper and addressing the problem you see. There are actually a number of ways in which you could advocate for yourself as well as for your community.
4. Start small.
You don’t have to face large issues to advocate for yourself. You don’t have to feel strongly about a global issue; self-advocacy can start right at home. For example, you might want more independence from your parents. Perhaps you can advocate for a later curfew or a larger raise. Another way to advocate for yourself is to let a teacher know someone is bullying you. Or let the school administrator know how you feel about having more study periods in school schedule. The point is that you don’t need to fight a major global issue to advocate for a cause. You can begin to self-advocate within your local community.
5. Get a job or volunteer.
You might feel that there is nothing you feel strongly about. Perhaps everything seems pretty okay both at school and at home. However, if you’re interested in gaining independence and being more involved in the world, getting a job is a good way to do that. Depending upon where you are employed, working can put you in touch with issues you didn’t know about. For instance, you might work as a tour guide for a kayaking company. There, you might learn that the sea lions on the coast where you live are losing their lives due to the high amount of boat traffic in and out of the harbor. Often, having a job can open up doors to topics that are more exciting and interesting.
6. Team up with others.
Whether it is an issue at home, school, or in the community, one powerful way to advocate for yourself is to gather others who feel the same way you do. For instance, let’s say you have a learning disability and math class is becoming more and more difficult. You might find some friends or classmates who also have learning disabilities and request that the school provide you with free tutoring. There is power in numbers! When you have a group of peers, friends, and even family members by your side, you’re more likely to win in favor of your cause.
These suggestions are to help you learn self-advocacy. As mentioned above you don’t need a major issue to be an advocate. For instance, you can advocate for your side of the story when you and a sibling get into a fight. You can advocate for access to the car now that you have your driver’s permit. No matter the topic, now is a great time to learn to speak up for your rights at home, school, and in your community!