by Francine Kanter
Our children are the future of our country, the world! Some would say that as ideal as it sounds—to empower youth—it is not that easy as parents, community leaders and teachers to foster this sense of ownership and leadership in children. Some might even wonder how we can put our future into the hands of teens whose ideas span from the simple lemonade stand to lofty dreams that are ridden with logistical complications.
The answer is simple: we simply let them “do.” We let them dream and think. We give our youth the tools to collaborate and problem solve, brainstorm and reflect. We empower them to believe that their voice matters without judging or criticizing their ideas.
The “how” of how to empower youth is to let them be kids and develop their own ideas—wherever they are in the range of potential social good actions. While one teen might be ready to speak out on a cause to their classmates or create an after school club, another might produce a video to build general awareness, while another might make bracelets to sell for a cause. The action almost doesn’t matter as long as it is meaningful to the student and fosters a sense of purpose.
Kids will be kids, and that is what makes their voices meaningful. The truth is that kids, even the most well-meaning ones, are going to have up and down days when it comes to using their voice. Sometimes their ideas will have expansive reach, while others may fall flat—and that is okay. They need to learn that being a change agent does not mean that everyone will always want to listen just because we would like them to. They need to learn that sometimes even the most fabulous idea may need a bit more ‘oomph’ or logistical planning. They need to know that ideas come to us at times when we least expect them—in the shower or walking home from the bus stop. But most importantly, our children need to know that we believe in their ideas.
As parents and adults, we also have to face another reality of empowering youth. Teens are adolescents. They may be ready to inspire others one week and want nothing to do with the cause the next. The goal is to help our youth develop habits that, in the end, they can sustain without our ‘suggestions’ or prodding. We have to let their interests ebb and flow while still talking about our own actions for good in the background so that our behaviors and words create the foundation for a long-term lifestyle.
A good lifestyle means good health not only on the physical level but even more importantly on the mental level. It may start as simply as having good concentration, focus, a good memory or improving the ability of learning a simple task.
Being involved in your child’s life as a parent is the most valuable tool an adolescent may have, ensuring they are equipped with the ability to develop themselves into society, ensuring they have healthy relationships with their peers—know their friends. Having a high state of health is part of the power, the power to express ourselves, the power of creation, the power of leadership.