Youth is the Answer

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This article was originally published on the Green Schools National Network by Charles Orgbon III to give Green Schools National Conference attendees a sneak peek to his keynote message in Sacramento, California. 

At this moment, there are more young people in the world than ever before – and they are all seemingly ready to make a difference; to change the world.

That – to me – screams world-changing potential, yet the environmental movement is massively squandering the talent of today’s young people.

Why aren’t young people on your board of directions? Why aren’t they in your focus groups, advisory panels, and media publications? Frankly, adults have not quite explored what does meaningful youth engagement look like. If we hope to ever solve complex issues like creating greener schools, climate change, and mass extinction we must make room for all stakeholders at the decision-making table, especially young people.

Luckily, in the 2010 Teen Voice study sponsored by the Search Institute, Best Buy, and Weber Shandwick, we find the answer to the age old question, “How do adults foster and encourage newer  generations to make a difference in the world?” Results from the report indicated there are three distinct characteristics in young people who have what it takes to effectively bring about change in their communities: passion, access to meaningful relationships, and voice. Adults play a critical role in each of these characteristics.

Passion

Everyone has a spark, represented by what we truly enjoy in life – whether it’s athletic, academic or social. When we look at young people who are focused on their life’s passion, we see that overall they are more prepared to become a leader in their community. The late Judy Bonds, a grassroots anti-coal mountaintop removal activist, reminded youth that, “The world is waiting on you to change it.” Adults can play a meaningful role in helping young people unlock their passion by introducing them to unique challenges and experiences.

Meaningful Relationships

Having a passion is a start. But, if one’s mission is to really stand out and be a “purple cow” (as Seth Godin might call it), building meaningful relationships is essential. We all need role models who help us nourish our strengths and mitigate our weaknesses. Youth most often look up to the people who listen to, are interested in, challenge – and laugh and learn with them.

Voice

Emerging leaders with a strong passion and support are ready to influence what matters to them, but if adults do not provide these young people with substantive leadership opportunities to share their voice, then their voice simply remains silenced. The first two themes of passion and meaningful relationships are prerequisites; it is then also up to adults to provide young people with opportunities and tools that allow them to drive the change they desire to see in the world.

For years, youth service-learning organizations have used results from the Teen Voice studies to consider how they might need to improve the focus of their organization.

Even more interesting is that these rules to engaging youth are applicable to many elements of our life.

When we as a global community begin to foster this plan to give our youth opportunities to take on leadership roles in communities, assist in developing our youth’s strengths through meaningful relationships, and build the foundation to allow youth to express themselves, the benefits to societies are limitless.

Resolving our world’s issues should not be left up only to the so-called “experts.” The youth of today are motivated – right now – to become catalysts for change and they have value you to add to community changemaking.

And to do that, they will not only need passion, access to mentor relationships, and voice. They’ll need  the support the support of the generations that precede them.

Charles invites readers to engage with him on Twitter @corgbon. 

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