Take Action by Supporting All Teens
We have clear hopes and desires for our own children. We want them to thrive now and far into the future. To expose them to rich opportunities that will inspire them. And we want to help them to begin to imagine themselves as vital, contributing community members. But when was the last time we thought about other children — supporting all teens — in the larger community?
Transform Your Community
For many parents, it can be hard to connect to adolescents. Especially those that don’t live under their own roof. Dr. Richard Lerner, of the Institute for Applied Research in Youth Development at Tufts University, is the author of “The Good Teen.” He says, “Imagine if you viewed all teens, not just your own, through the lens of positive development. If all teens are thought of as assets in the making, rather than problems waiting to happen, then not only our own families but also society as a whole could be transformed.” It’s an important call to action that as parents, we must consider.
Imagine what a world it would be if all adolescents received the levels of warmth, support, and opportunities they deserve. Life in all communities could be dramatically different. These could be communities filled with tweens and teens ready and willing to contribute. Working together making them the best places possible to live and thrive within. We must commit to the concept of supporting all teens.
Why We Must Care About Others
Parenting your own children is hard, but fulfilling work. You may find yourself asking why caring about youth outside your circle of family and friends is so important. Ensure success for everyone by getting behind the healthy and positive development of all youth. With a team-like approach, we can take action to change negative attitudes that some people have towards teens. We must encourage and value both our own children and teens at large.
Caring for others serves to benefit ourselves as well. As we care for and about others, we gain a sense of our own meaning and purpose. And we collectively invest in our shared future. That’s best done by building strong youth. It also forges the intergenerational connections that strengthen us all.
Throw a Wide Net of Support
Come together as caring adults — parents, grandparents, caregivers, educators, health professionals and others — to create a wide support network for our teens. Work with multiple generations and disciplines to build a society in which all teens experience needed support while moving into adulthood. Together, notice and celebrate the strengths teens offer. Listen to their views and hopes and build a support system. Enable their ambitions and dreams to come true.
Harness the Resources in Your Community
Take the lead by looking within your own community for existing resources and programs to build strong youth. Take a look at where teens are thriving within your community. Where do they go after school, or to hang out? What kinds of activities are large draws? Where are they most often learning to see themselves positively? What local spots are friendliest to teens? After answering some of these questions, you’ll likely discover your community’s starting points. You’ll also see what is missing and consider the need to advocate for additional programs and supports.
Work with local officials, administrators, shop owners, religious leaders, and others, to promote a view of teens that emphasizes their strengths and assets. We mustn’t think of this as an opportunity primarily to reduce or remove problems in our neighborhoods. This strategy is intended to build the strengths of all youth. To make our communities pro-development — so that we all learn to appreciate where youth are in their stage of development. Then, we can create the foundation for them to develop to their potential.
Ask Tweens and Teens What Matters to Them
Here’s another important concept as we work towards change – consult the teens! They are the experts in their own lives. Involve them in part of the decision-making process to let them feel valued. Encourage them to have a voice. Recognize their potential and drive them to get involved in projects that move us forward as a society. Think about a teen-designed and painted public mural to encourage pride and discourage graffiti. Or a program where teens tell real-life stories about themselves and the issues affecting their communities by creating films and commercials. What about art made by teens using recycled materials from their community? The possibilities are endless. Teens can prove valuable allies in lasting change. They‘ll also benefit from spending time with caring adults and will make meaningful connections that will further ensure their success.
We can help adolescents more clearly define their roles in society and find meaning in their lives. Involving them in the bigger community encourages them to further invest in something they are passionate about. It could be a talent, a sport, or special interest. Getting involved in something that makes a difference yields a sense of ownership. It feels good and sparks passions and curiosity. The character teens need to become successful adults is strengthened.
Create a Community That Cares
We’ve been talking about the importance of providing opportunities for youth within our communities. But it’s also about creating a larger community that cares. This is especially important for under-resourced communities. Caring communities work to support and empower citizens. And community programs are important partners in that effort.
When programs aren’t available, caring citizens must reach out to local politicians, civic groups, schools, religious and community organizations to let them know what’s missing and needed. If this seems daunting, start small with teens you’re familiar with. Establish a book club, bible study, or organize a group of teens to help out at an animal shelter. Even small groups can make an impact. Partner with other parents to amplify voices. There is power in numbers!
Programming could include a wide range of opportunities for community members with diverse interests and skills. For example, continuing education classes, youth groups, parenting programs, elder care programs, faith-based programs, and more. The existence of these types of programs and facilities creates communities that encourage citizens to work together and support one another when facing challenges.
We want our communities to have the resources young people deserve. At the very least, these efforts will help young people know that adults care about them.
Nurturing Teen Strengths
Taking time to nurture strengths allows teens to further discover what their unique contributions to society will be. Click through to review ways you can help young people become their best selves.
Have High Expectations
We must not let our teens feel like they are letting us down as they grow. Rolling our eyes or having low expectations can make them worry about growing up.
Model Overcoming Limitations
We are all uneven -- everyone excels at some things but not others. Show teens ways they can put in hard work and effort to help make up for shortcomings in some areas.
Try New Things
Encourage teens to try out a variety of activities to help them figure out what they’re good at, what they may have to work hard at, and where they may want to focus energies.
Cultivate Character Strengths
Nurture strengths of character including gratitude, compassion, optimism and confidence so young people will lead meaningful adult lives.
Securing a Positive Future for All Teens
This is a call to action that as parents, we mustn’t take lightly. We must let our own teens, as well as other teens in our communities, know they are leaders-in-the-making. Teenagers tend to live up to our expectations, so we must set high bars for them to meet. By creating a community that supports the positive development in all young people, we ensure that the world they are growing in — the world we are living in — is a more positive place.
There are plenty of groups and foundations working to encourage positive adolescent development. If you are unsure of where to start, consider reaching out to learn more from them! Examples include:
MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership – An organization expanding mentoring initiatives around the country. They identify and link youth with adults in local communities willing to guide and spend time with youth in need of that presence. They know that having adults mentor within a community is an important developmental resource associated with positive youth development.
Youth Power – An advocacy organization offering resources, materials, and instruction encouraging positive youth development in youth, their families, communities, and governments.
Boys and Girls Clubs of America – The mission of the Boys and Girls Clubs of America is to enable all young people, especially those who need it most, to reach their full potential as productive, caring, responsible citizens.
4-H – One of America’s largest youth development organizations, this group works to empower millions of young people across the United States with skills to lead for a lifetime. They are dedicated to helping youth become responsible citizens leading healthy and productive lives.