There are over 20 million teens in the United States. Globally, the United Nations estimated that in 2003 the number of young people aged between 10 and 19 reached 1.2 billion, or nearly a fifth of the total world population. That's a lot of teen power and potential.
Over the past 18 months, my partner, Dr. Kathy Cramer, and I have been working with educators, psychologists, advocates, and teens to develop our next book, Change The Way You See Everything – TEEN Edition. Our goal was to create something that will be a powerful tool and an innovative resource to help youth discover and appreciate their many assets and believe in themselves.
In the process, Kathy and I have been forever changed. Teens inspired and educated us as much, if not more, than we influenced them. Now we see teens in a new light, as much more than our future; they are a very powerful part of our present. Real, ready, willing, and able to think, feel, and act big.
The Good Teen
The conventional wisdom of developmental psychology generally views teens through the lens of risk factors and preventing and remedying the very real threats and dangers that teens face. While this approach is important, it’s only part of the picture.
In groundbreaking research, Dr. Richard Lerner, of Tufts University, found that with the right guidance teenage years can be healthy, positive, and productive. This positive vision is eloquently brought to life in Dr. Lerner's book, The Good Teen. We wholeheartedly agree with Dr. Lerner that teens can realize and make the most of the promise and potential that is uniquely theirs, by seeing themselves through the lens of upside factors and assets that are both inside and around them.
Teen-Age is the new Change-Age
Conventional wisdom also has us believe that being a leader, making a difference, and creating change requires the wisdom of years, the passage of time, and life stage experiences. Not necessarily.
Today’s teens and youth are ready, right now, to be positive change agents and unleash their potential to step into important roles of leadership and step out into their world as never before. Kathy and I are passionate advocates for their power, promise, and potential to change their world and ours.
It Does Take A Village
We have also come away with a renewed and profound respect for the ever-growing network of individuals, organizations, educators, and teachers who are doing their best to encourage, help, and support teens in so many ways, big and small, like O Ambassadors.
There is no doubt that Oprah Winfrey has had a huge impact on millions of people worldwide. She’s donated her time, money, and passion to help those in need.
Underneath Oprah’s high profile activity is a particularly striking and powerful affinity for and connection to the youth of the world. This comes to life brilliantly in Oprah’s O Ambassadors program. In 2006, Oprah’s Angel Network partnered with Craig Kielburger's Free The Children initiative to create Oprah's O Ambassadors.
This is a very special school-based program that enables and motivates teens to find their Mighty Cause and be active global citizens by helping their less fortunate peers around the world. In addition to the good works it generates, this program builds self-confidence and self esteem in each and every teen as they step into their Ambassador roles.
Oprah's Ambassadors focus on four key issues: Poverty, education, health, and sustainable development.
An important part of the initiative is an outreach program to teachers and educators to start O Ambassadors Clubs at their schools, either as a part of their classroom programming or as a school-based extracurricular opportunity for students. What happens in these clubs is asset-based thinking at its best.
Ambassadors select their Mighty Cause, develop action plans with measurable goals, and then they take specific action that positively affects both the Ambassadors and the recipients. It’s all about empowering teens to help their peers. In ABT terms, this is “trading places to get places.”
It also is important to remind ourselves that accomplishing big things can take many forms and be viewed from different vantage points. Oprah provides a great perspective: “The key to realizing a dream is to focus not on success but significance- and then even the small steps and little victories along your path will take on greater meaning.”
The Passion Of One Can Become The Power Of Many
Now is the time for young adults to recognize their potential and step into their role as healthy, productive individuals yearning and ready to make a difference in this world. This is especially true in today's world of connectivity and engagement enabled by the Internet and digital technology. Who knows more about harnessing that power than teens!
All of us should encourage teens to believe in something big and put those skills and resources to use to start something big. Margaret Mead, the renowned anthropologist, said something that is particularly relevant today: “Never underestimate that a small band of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world – it’s the only thing that ever has.”
Kathy and I are passionate believers and advocates that teens can be that small band of citizens.Powered by Sidelines