Three ideas to help you call young people to do big things

Brad M. Griffin | May 6, 2013

In the midst of a country dampened by recent tragedies, last week David Bornstein shared in the NY Times about “Young Movers, With a Passion for Change.”

The subjects of Bornstein’s article are young people identified as peacemakers by Peace First, a nonprofit boldly declaring a positive message about kids: “We view children as natural problem solvers, creative thinkers, and leaders of change.” This year they’re reviewing nearly 700 applicants for the first-ever “Peace First Prize,” searching out young people ages 8-22 who model “compassion, courage and ability to create collaborative change.” Just browsing a handful of the nominees is enough to lift your spirits.

A positive take on adolescents might open our culture’s eyes to some other unseen realities, like these 10 amazing youth innovators featured by Mashable recently. Oh, and TEDxTeen is full of them. So why don’t we expect great things of the teenagers we interact with day in and day out?

Possibly because we just don’t expect much of them.

Possibly because we just hope they don’t blow it.

Possibly because we really just want them to be safe and nice. And benign.

Young people who do big things have often given up on safe and nice. They’re gutsy. And often it’s because an adult (or team of adults) is standing beside them offering a different narrative for the American teenager. Quoting Peace First president and co-founder Eric Dawson, Bornstein writes:

“We don’t call our young people to big things,” says Eric Dawson, whose organization has been training educators to teach peacemaking skills for two decades. “We spend our time telling them not to use drugs, not to smoke, not to be a bully. All good messages, but at the end of the day what are we advising young people to do?”

Dawson suggests three things adults can do:

1. Ask young people questions of engagement. What do you think about that? What would you do? How do you think we could make this better?

2. Take young people’s ideas seriously.

3. Give young people concrete opportunities to act on their ideas.

I like this list. What would you add? And how are you doing it?

Brad M. Griffin

Brad M. Griffin is the Senior Director of Content for the Fuller Youth Institute, where he develops research-based training for youth workers and parents. A speaker, writer, and volunteer youth pastor, Brad is the coauthor of over a dozen books, including 3 Big Questions That Change Every Teenager, Faith in an Anxious World, Growing Young, several Sticky Faith books, Every Parent’s Guide to Navigating Our Digital World, and Can I Ask That? Brad and his family live in Southern California, where he serves as Pastor of Youth and Family Ministries at Mountainside Communion.


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