Have we forgotten the power of a teenager to create positive social change?

When will we stop pathologizing each other and describing ourselves and our kids as broken and in need of fixing? I live in Washington state and the recent school shooting has awakened this sense of how can we fix the problems that stress our kids? My perspective is a bit different.

How can we engage our strengths and our kids strengths to empower them in facing life’s challenges? If we view ourselves from a perspective of overcoming our weaknesses we see ourselves as weak. Our children and teens are the same. If we view their brain structure as a “reason” to justify their negative emotional outbursts then we grow to expect their outbursts and we view their emotions as a negative consequence of a developing brain. If we view their use of social media as a negative use of their time, we reinforce a critical message we send them and our viewpoint is dismissed.

Yes, we need to understand and come up with solution to end violent responses, yes- we need to understand and support our teens and reduce teenage depression and yes- we need to come up with solutions. AND, are we asking all of the questions? Instead of adults asking questions about  how to fix the problems facing teens, why don’t we as adults engage the strengths of teens in resolving the problems we all face? Instead of “us /them”, why aren’t we working together?  Are their teen representatives on task forces?

Remember the ways youthful energy has led to social change? Remember the wise and inspiring words of Anne Frank or Samantha Smith? Remember how they challenged adults to think differently and because they were teens- we listened! Remember the teens who refused to attend a segregated school and demanded they receive an equal education? They contributed to the Civil Rights Movement. Their emotionally charged dispositions helped change our world!

What would happen if we instead redirected the power of a teen that comes with emotional energy into a service related project? What if we viewed the attention kids and teens direct towards social media as an opportunity for them to develop those skills and support a cause?

I understand how easy it is for all of us to seek answers by identifying problems- after all our learning structure is based on this premise from early in our development. However; resilience and resilient literature, recognizes that if we feel a sense of belonging, purpose for existing, that we matter- it improves our well- being. Whether we eat a lot of junk food, are over extended, are living in the midst of trauma, are exposed to violence and or a number of any other stresses, this literature argues that our ability to cope is also based on spiritual sense of meaning. Do we feel as though we matter? No amount of healthy lifestyle changes can make up for low self- esteem. What I suggest we explore is how do our kids and teens view their strengths?

A simple exercise could benefit all of us. Asking a set of questions the next time your family is together could shed important light on what’s happening with your children and teens. If each person, including adults would respond to:

1) What are your skills, gifts and talents?
2. Do you feel like you contribute to your community?
3. Do you make a difference in the life of another every day even in a small way?
4. What can I as a parent and or supportive adult do to help you find an outlet for your abilities?

What would happen if this became the discussion points at each dinner table in America? sadness

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