This article provides a critical examination of a common form of adult attempts to promote civic engagement among young people, namely, youth advisory councils. While youth councils have been widely celebrated as an effective way to integrate young people into political processes, little research has explored why some politically active youth choose to leave, or refuse to join, youth councils. Based on two qualitative studies of politically active teens throughout North and Latin America, the authors argue that teenage activists possess valuable dissident knowledge of, and critical perspectives on, the potential for youth advisory councils to promote youth political power. We argue that young activists understand democracy in ways that are fundamentally different from that offered to them by youth councils. Youth activists put forth a theory of democracy that emphasizes authority and impact, not just voice; they understand democracy as representing collective concerns and perceive youth councils as elitist and non-representative, and they emphasize the value of controversy and contentious politics while expressing anxiety that youth councils can function as modes of social control that tame and channel youth dissent, rather than opportunities to foster youth political power.
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