Teens today are experiencing an unprecedented level of uncertainty and stress. They are living through a global pandemic, experiencing economic uncertainty not seen since the Great Depression, witnessing civil rights unrest, and participating in demonstrations reminiscent of the 1960s. All at once.
And . . . thank goodness for youth.
Young people consistently propose new ideas and embody optimistic hope for change in our world. Listen to them.
Listen to understand, listen to validate, listen to learn, and listen to change.
Listen to understand
Popular media is flooded with “experts” talking at one another, over one another – making their points loudly and emphatically. Young people are given relatively few examples of passionate people listening to one another and trying to understand one another’s perspectives. When others bring up concepts that don’t make sense to us, that we disagree with, that we want to attack — it’s important to slow down, ask for more information, and try to understand what leads to these ideas. Yes, it takes more time to check in around why people think and feel the way they do. And it’s critical.
Listen to validate
Validation is communicating to another person that their feelings make sense in the context in which they occur. It doesn’t necessarily mean agreeing with their beliefs, but rather, given the beliefs, the emotion makes sense. Most of us who work with or are parents of young people find it fairly natural to validate emotions right now. We are all experiencing various levels of worry, anger, and sadness about the things going on in the world and share many of the same emotional experiences. Validation is effective when we put ourselves in the minds of another person, imagine what it would be like for them, and then communicate this understanding. We are all in this together right now. Shared experiences makes validation much easier.
Listen to learn
A teenager wisely told me, “It’s not enough to be not a racist right now, one has to be actively not a racist.”
Humbly listening to ideas with an open mind and willingness to learn expands awareness and allows for growth. Youth historically identify, prioritize, and fight for new ideas and societal change.
We have a lot to learn from young people.
Listen to change
We all have a tendency to hold tight to our beliefs and defend them vigorously. We are inclined to notice and attend to information that supports our beliefs, and conversely — completely miss, ignore, or reject information that challenges our belief systems. Change is hard. Questioning or letting go of beliefs and ideas puts us in an uncomfortable place emotionally. We tend to avoid it. We justify the avoidance in many ways – “Kids don’t understand the real world”, “Youth are hopelessly optimistic”, “Change takes time”, “We’ve always done things this way”, “You’re being ridiculous”.
At the same time, change is constant, ongoing and necessary. To resist it is to get left behind.