The Adolescent as an Activist
Before we jump into tangible tips, I want to make sure we’re on the same page. Children care. Teens care. They just do. Yes, just like some adults, there will be outliers. But for the most part, adolescents have big feelings and big thoughts.
The narrative that young people are apathetic, self-absorbed, or oblivious to the world around them is dangerous. When we make sweeping generalizations, especially ones with such a harmful narrative, we set the tone for what we want to see. Look through modern history and you’ll see young people recognizing the flaws in outdated systems. Each new generation hosts gentle rebellions to old systems every day, and your generation did it too.
It’s human nature to be a little miffed when people point out flaws and offer new suggestions. However, there is power in pausing, listening, and reflecting on the criticisms we hear. Personally, I write this article as a young millennial. I was born into dial-up, and I’ve lived through the rest. (No need to recap these trying 20+ years.) One afternoon, I overheard my mom and her best friend, deep in conversation about student debt. It sounded like this:
My mom: I wonder what will happen with all of these student loans.
My mom’s best friend: I don’t know, but it bothers me that I couldn’t make a dent in mine for over 20 years, and these kids might get theirs wiped free. I just paid mine off last year.
My mom: I hear you’ve struggled a lot with these payments, and your financial situation took your entire adult life to improve.
My mom’s best friend: Yes! It’s not fair that these kids won’t have to pay as much!
My mom: But why would you want someone else to suffer in the same way you did? It was really hard, and I would say traumatic for you.
My mom’s best friend: *Insert very long pause, internal conversation, and deep breathing here*
I get it. Resentment is a natural reaction. My mom’s best friend is right. It’s not fair. Her generation and each generation after that was sold the college narrative. But still, why would she want my generation to suffer the same? Again, it’s a no brainer. Misery loves company. When people have collective pain and younger generations pay their dues, it makes the resentment feel more normal.
I digress. The point being, when we listen to adolescents' criticisms instead of taking them personally, we can create change for the betterment of all and especially for those to come. When we allow adolescents to become the activists they want to be, we raise a bold generation who can ignite change.
Tips to Support the Current Activist
- Listen to them and try their suggestions. There is power in being heard. When children see that they have the power to influence others in a positive way, they grow even more inspired to make change. For instance, if your adolescent learns about sustainability and brings home their newfound knowledge, hear them out. It won’t hurt anything to try a compost bucket, to switch to energy efficient bulbs, or to bring reusable bags. The small effort you make to listen and try their suggestions will fuel their activism for years to come.
- Tell your friends and colleagues. There’s power in numbers. When your adolescent dives into their philanthropic adventures, tell people! The first step to activism is raising awareness, so let your friends and colleagues know about your child’s positive impact. Maybe they will ask follow-ups about how to get their child involved in activism, or maybe they will be interested enough to join you all.
- Compliment and validate them. Show that you’re actively listening by making eye contact, asking thoughtful questions, and taking their passions seriously. After you listen, take the time to compliment their passion, drive, and care. Convincing people to care or take action over another problem in the world is not easy, but your child is brave enough to try. Activism is not easy, but it is worth it.
Tips to Inspire Future Activists
- Have meaningful conversations with them and around them. Children are like sponges, which can be excellent. Let them soak up thoughtful conversations about their surrounding worlds. Overhearing conversations about your philanthropic activities or new information you’re learning can inspire them to get involved.
- Get involved. If your adolescent hasn’t jumped into activism yet, jump in with them. Children are far more comfortable stepping out of their comfort zone when they have a trusted person nearby. Organize trash pick-ups, volunteer together, or even host charity-focused get-togethers with friends.
- Provide positive examples. In the age of information, there are countless positive influences to learn from. Learn about other children and teen activists through documentaries, articles, social media, and books. When your adolescent sees other teens making an impact, they will likely be more inspired and empowered to try for themselves.
About the Author
Kat St.Pierre (she/her) is a former 8th grade English teacher turned freelance content/copywriter. Passionate about being kind to others, the planet, and herself, she loves using her voice to amplify important conversations and educate with empathy. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.katstpierre.com.