A nation is democratic to the extent that its citizens are involved, particularly at the community level. The confidence and competence to be involved must be gradually acquired through practice. It is for this reason that there should be gradually increasing opportunities for children to participate in any aspiring democracy, and particularly in those nations already convinced that they are democratic. With the growth of children’s rights we are beginning to see an increasing recognition of children’s abilities to speak for themselves. Regrettably, while children’s and youths’ participation does occur in different degrees around the world, it is often exploitative or frivolous. This Essay is designed to stimulate a dialogue on this important topic.
The Ladder of Participation diagram is designed to serve as a beginning typology for thinking about children’s participation in projects. The ladder metaphor is borrowed from an article on adult participation, though new categories have been developed for this Essay (see Arnstein, 1969).