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Teens: Our Next Greatest Generation

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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.

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About Hank Wasiak

Hank Wasiak is a communications industry leader and partner at the creative hot shop, The Concept Farm. Hank began his advertising career in 1965 as a real Mad Man at Benton & Bowles. He is a best selling author, teacher, motivational speaker and three time Emmy award winning television host. Hank and Dr. Kathy Cramer created a best selling business - self help book series based on Asset-Based Thinking published by Running Press. Hank also is an Adjunct Professor at USC's Marshall School Of Business.
  • The teens I know are aware of how the world goes.
    In our bushfires in Victoria there were teens who were voluntary members of the Country Fire Authority teams who were fighting these devastating fires.

  • J.

    Thanks for the comments…you’re right teens are very aware of the ways of the world. The more that we encourage and recognize their potential the more teens will amaze us. The fires around Victoria were tragic and it’s great that teens pitched in to help.

    Be well.


  • Wow! Excellent initiative. I’m inspired and touched by your work. Although I write for Third Agers, I work with young adults (French-speaking) at the college level in Quebec, Canada; I find that they have so much to offer. In a recent “happiness” survey I did with almost 100 students, I found that many students, both female and male, want to be better people, to love and be loved, and have satisfying, meaningful relationships with family, friends and the wider community.
    Good luck in your work.

  • bliffle

    I was very glad to see this article and read it. IMO the teens of today are faced by a combination of great challenges and great opportunities. What will carry them forward is understanding and education and thinking.

    I wish them well.

  • Frank:

    Thanks very much for your comments and encouragement. Great idea for the Happiness survey and the results are nice to see and encouraging. If you can share it, I’d enjoy seeing it.

    Be well and enjoy those Third Agers.


  • b.

    Thanks. I share your opinion about the challenges and opportunities faced by teens….more of both today than in anytime that I can remember. That’s why Dr. Kathy Cramer and I are so excited about puting asset-based thinking in the hands and hearts of teens.

    Be well and thanks again.


  • bliffle

    IMO the hazards that todays teens face are the greatest I have ever seen. There are so many ways to fail and so little safety net for them that they may have to lead very narrow lives.

    Among me and my cohorts from the 50s there were so many boys and girls who started badly or doubtfully but later recovered and succeeded that I was always astonished. But i don’t know if todays teens have as much leeway.

    Already, by the time my own children became teens, I could see the narrowing of American society and the increasing premium on being without error.

  • Well said…some excellent observations. I’m seeing it in my grandson who is turning 13 very soon.

    Appreciate you comments and participation.


  • Jo-Lynne Worley

    Great blog. It’s heartening to hear so many people putting positive energy into Teen projects like mighty causes,mentoring etc. Too often no action is taken and fear about what they are inheriting prevails. Asset-based thinking for TEENS is a winner.