Do you know a do-gooder teen who wants to make the world a better place?
In spite of the stereotype of the apathetic teenager, I can attest to the existence of ambitious and kind young people who care about problems our world faces and want to do something about them.
I have the privilege of working with youth who are starting school environmental clubs, implementing anti-bullying programs, fundraising to support nonprofits they believe in, and so much more.
Young change-makers can do so much, and still they (like all of us) need support.
Check out these tips for helping them change the world:
1. Encourage them to learn more.
Well-meaning adults often shield kids from learning about sad or scary things, but this can make what they don’t fully know feel bigger, scarier and impossible to do anything about. Connecting with a group working on an issue they care about is a great place to start.
2. Don’t crush their dreams.
If your son, daughter, or other teen in your life tells you they want to, say, get solar panels on their school, instead of explaining to them how hard it will be, tell them how proud of them you are for them caring so much. Students have done that and more.
Keep your “realistic” adult thoughts to yourself, and let them try.
3. Guide them to create a goal and a plan.
Help them think it through.
Who could you work with? How much would it cost? How have others been successful at this? How can I help?
If they’re aiming too high, they will either discover that through this process and come up with a more achievable goal, or—solar panels or not—they will learn a lot along the way from trying.
4. Help them manage their time and follow through.
Every so often, ask them how it’s going. Do they have a daily planner or a way of managing their to-dos? Don’t let them forget their dreams or give up on them because they were too busy on Facebook.
5. Help them overcome self doubt.
We all have a mean voice in our heads somewhere that can hold us back when we listen to it.
I work with teens on uncovering limiting beliefs they may have about themselves, like, “I’m not smart enough” or, “I’m too shy,” which can prevent them from following through on their world-changing plans. I ask them to list accomplishments they’ve achieved, compliments they’ve received, and things they like about themselves to shift their self-perception.
Everyone needs to know how amazing they are, and there is no better place to learn that than at home.
6. Be as involved as they want you to be.
If they want your involvement, time or advice, offer it as freely as you can. If they don’t want it, don’t take it personally.
Pursue your own desires to make a difference. Whether it’s donating money to a good cause, volunteering or making personal choices that show that you care, kids learn to follow what you do, not what you say.
8. Make it okay for them to go out of their comfort zone and fail.
Embarking on a new challenge always poses the risk of failure, but being willing to fail makes it possible to succeed.
9. Appreciate them every step of the way.
No matter their level of “success,” any teenager actively seeking to make the world a better place deserves to be acknowledged, every chance you get.
And appreciate yourself, too.
Any parent raising kids to have empathy and compassion, to believe in and think for themselves, and to be the change they wish to see in the world has done well in my book.
Bravo! We need more parents like you.
10. Encourage them to find like-minded peers.
I run Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp, a week-long overnight camp for progressive teens who want to change the world.
For some campers, YEA Camp is the first time they’ve met others who care about similar issues as much as they do, and they find a sense of belonging and inspiration being among young people who share their values.
If you can’t send your child to YEA Camp this summer, help them find another outlet where they can meet like-minded peers so they know they are not alone.
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Apprentice Editor: Carrie Marzo/Editor: Travis May
Photo: Roberto Lupini / Pixoto