She was just 16 years old and standing in front of an audience of 2,500 adults, most of whom were busy checking their emails, texts, or reading over proposals that they would be voting on that afternoon. It was, after all, only the conference youth report. With poise and authority, she began her speech.
“We are not the future. We are the present. We are not the future anymore than you are the past.”
She was getting some attention now; adults hate being referred to as the past!
“Together we are both the present and it’s important that we listen to each other.” She went on to say that she and so many of her friends appreciated the times when they were allowed to share their ideas and listen to the wisdom of other generations. Such conviction, and such a challenge! Wow. She received a rousing applause.
We often say, “Our youth are our future!” And it is true that they are the next leaders of our community, the next voters in our democracy, the future parents of a generation. They will guide policies, and inevitably shape the world. But aren’t we also saying that their present is insignificant? Are we inferring that they are not valuable to the culture until they are adults like us? I fear this is what some of our teenagers are hearing. Teens don’t want to be talked about as if their time will come in the future and their current ideas and abilities don’t have merit.
We need to include our teens in decision making- at home and in our communities. They need to be part of the conversations that impact their present and future. I know this kind of interaction requires patience and partnership from us. It can be challenging to have teenagers testing the limits, trying to do things differently and taking some of the control for their future. But adolescence is the ideal time for our young people to try out new ways of doing things. It’s a time of creativity, and for developing empathy. Additionally, by focusing on the value our teens have at present, we teach them to focus on the value within themselves. This gives them confidence and puts them on the path to a meaningful and possibly world-changing life.
We don't need to be afraid of our young people. We need to come alongside them, listen to what they have to share, impart our wisdom (only if solicited) and be wowed!!
Be present and be positive. We all need that.