Speak Up! Using What You've Got to Get What You Want

Cover page of Speak Up.

This brochure encourages young people to speak up and advocate for themselves, whether at the doctor's office, at school, at work, or in common situations they may face.

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Photograph of a young man smiling.Do you know what you want but need help getting it?


Do you just want adults to listen to you? 










Why Speak Up?

Image of a young  woman resting her chin on her  folded arms.Speaking up for yourself will help you:

  • Solve problems with family and friends
  • Get better service from doctors, social workers, and others 
  • Settle disputes with employers and gain their respect 
  • Get the education, housing, and health care you need 


  • You’ll feel proud of yourself.
  • You’ll prove you can do things on your own.
  • You’ll increase your chances of getting what you want, when you want it.


How Can I Speak Up?

Young woman sits with a pencil in her hand.

1. Write down your personal goals and the steps you need to take to reach them.

Identifying your personal goals means knowing what you want. Do you want to pass your math test? Get your driver’s license? Become a doctor?







Know your rights and responsibilities.

Photograph of a young man speaking on the telephone.

2. Know your rights and responsibilities.

What do we mean by rights and responsibilities? For example, when you rent an apartment, you have the right to ask your landlord to repair things that are broken. You also have the responsibility to pay your rent on time and take good care of the place. How do you find out about your rights and responsibilities? Turn the page!












Remember, there’s no such thing as a dumb question.

Photograph of a young man smiling, with his arms crossed.

3. Remember, there’s no such thing as a dumb question.

Getting the right information is an important part of speaking up for yourself. Ask a teacher or counselor, talk to friends, or check the Internet if you have questions.

In fact, even if you don’t have questions, talk to helpful people anyway. You may learn something you didn’t even think to ask.

You may find people who have gone through the same thing you’re going through. They can tell you about their experiences.






Be respectful

photograph of young
women in a discussion

4. Be respectful.

Speaking up is not just about speaking. Listening is important too. If you listen to others and respect their points of view, they’ll listen to what you have to say. When it’s your turn, be friendly but also be firm. Assert yourself, but don’t get angry. Keep trying, but don’t be pushy. You may want to rehearse what you will say. Is someone you’re dealing with being a jerk? Keep your cool by counting to ten or telling yourself “I can do this.” Then, refocus on why you’re there and explain what you want clearly, firmly, and politely.









Get help

Young woman smiles with her arms folded.

5. Get help.

Say you’re going to the department of motor vehicles or the doctor’s office. You hate the lines and the waiting. You don’t know what documents you need to have.














Other times to ask for help

There are other times you should ask for help. Here are some examples:
A young  woman sits with her arms on her knees. smiling.
  • Having trouble with a class? Talk to your teacher.

  • Not sure how to deal with an argument with your parents? Talk to a counselor or case manager.

  • Not feeling well? Talk to a doctor.

Be Organized

A young woman smiles, holding a book bag,6. Be Organized

Sometimes, speaking up for yourself means keeping track of a lot of different information.

You may need to collect documentation that supports your case. The more information you have, the better prepared you will be, and the easier it will be for people to help you.

You might need documents that have your medical, financial, education, or residential information on them. Put each kind of document in a different folder.






Use a calendar

A young person smiling.Also, use a calendar to keep track of appointments. Mark the date and time of each appointment, and take notes about what will happen. Is there anything you need to do to prepare?

Keep track of phone calls and note the date and the name of the person you spoke to. And if you communicate by e-mail, file messages so you can find them easily.

It may feel scary at first, but speaking up just means knowing what you want and why you want it and getting other people to help you. The more you practice, the easier it will be.















More Information

Speak Up! was developed for the Family and Youth Services Bureau; Administration on Children, Youth and Families; Administration for Children and Families; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; by JBS International, Inc., under contract number GS10F0285K to manage the National Clearinghouse on Families & Youth (NCFY).


P.O. Box 13505
Silver Spring, MD 20911-3505
(301) 608-8098
(301) 608-8721 (fax)