Don’t you love to watch young boys and girls at play? Performing chemistry experiments, building forts, starring in their own plays, turning mud into little sloppy pies, or pretending to be doctors, writers, dancers, firemen--their imaginations are vibrant, their futures are bright and attainable, and their opinions are voiced loud and clear.
When teaching the Think On Point program to sixth graders, I always ask each student what they dream to be when they grow up. Exuberantly, they tell me in very specific detail of their plans…college, athletics, professional singer, attorney, president. Each child is bursting with hope and big dreams.
After some time working with adolescents through On Point, I noticed a remarkable change in these vibrant, playful, opinionated kids. I began asking ninth graders about their hopes and dreams and was often met with silence or remarks resembling “I don’t know…whatever.” The rare young man or woman who spoke about their plans for the future brought rolling eyes from around the room and comments about them being “a suck-up.”
It was as if their dreams (or the willingness to be outwardly excited about them) had died in the sixth grade.
Why? What happened to our kids?
Dr. Mary Pipher, author of Reviving Ophelia, states that during early adolescence, "Girls who rushed to drink in experiences in enormous gulps sit quietly in the corner.” Pipher states that girls stop thinking, “Who am I?” and start thinking, “What must I do to please others?”
This change is often due to mounting social pressures coupled with a time in their lives where everything is changing -- body, hormones, and their way of thinking. In addition, Pipher writes that American culture “smacks adolescent girls on the head” as they move into a culture full of girl-hurting “isms” -- sexism, capitalism, and lookism – while simultaneously being expected to distance from their parents just at the time when they most need their parents’ support.
Pipher says that “girls know they are losing themselves…wholeness is shattered by the chaos of adolescence. Girls become fragmented, their selves split into mysterious contradictions. They are sensitive and tenderhearted, mean and competitive, superficial and idealistic. They are confident in the morning and overwhelmed by nightfall. They try on new roles every week – this week the good student, next week the delinquent, and the next, the artist. And they expect their families to keep up with these changes.”
Boys face similar changes in adolescence as well. Kindlon and Thompson in their book Raising Cain reveal a nation of adolescent boys who are hurting – sad, angry, afraid, or silent due to a society that does little to encourage positive emotional qualities in our boys. In becoming a man, our culture often teaches emotional isolation: "The more pressure a boy feels, the more deeply he withdraws.” They need their parents’ support in this vital time as well, but often struggle alone and avoid discussing their feelings with anyone.
While changes brought by adolescence are complex in their own right, I believe our society does little to positively encourage and value our teenagers. Often they are seen as blind consumers to be marketed to. In fact, at a recent conference I was told that representatives from MTV stated that “kids don’t know what they want….we tell them what they want and they believe it.” They are depicted by the media as sex-crazed or full of raging hormones with little focus given to their gifts, talents, or true selves. Even adults can easily buy into the lie that teens cannot be understood, nor make wise choices (such as abstinence or healthy living) for themselves.
The greatest thing I have learned about teens is that they are much smarter than we give them credit for. As adults, we need to equip them for the teenage years, serving as a consistent and positive guide, helping them continue to dream big and achieve their goals. All of the experts mentioned above cite the need for “vital connections and support they need to navigate social pressures of youth.”
Each day, our educators see that the big-dreaming, resilient child still exists in each of our students. It exists in the girl who overcame life on the streets dealing drugs and having sex at age 13 to become a leader among her peers. It exists in another student who has risen to become valedictorian of her high school. It exists in the young man who is now attending college and working to become an OBGYN.
On Point works to help teens dream big. A key component in helping teens make healthy choices for their future apart from the lures of risk behaviors is to foster a vision for their future. Teens that possess vision can take the steps to achieve their dreams, have higher resiliency and are more likely to make wise choices. They have big plans, and sex and other risky behaviors could crush those dreams.
As each school year closes and another begins, full of hope and fresh beginnings, will you partner with us to encourage vision in our students? Will you be an encouraging and consistent voice to the kids in your life? Will you help them see that it takes wise decision-making to realize their hopes and dreams?
Yes, it is wonderful to watch young kids dream and play. But my greatest love is to watch teenagers thrive on their path towards adulthood. Please be our partners in working towards this goal – you can give a back-to-school gift, adopt-a-students like Pelle, volunteer, share this newsletter with your friends, and most important, encourage a teen in your life towards a beautiful future.
For more information, contact us at On Point.