Teenagers are our future…and our present

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by Joshua Becker

Joshua Becker blogs at Becoming Minimalist, where he encourages others to find more life by owning less. His new book, Clutterfree with Kids, is both inspiring and practical for parents of all ages.

We must invest into our teenagers, they are our future.” This is a phrase that I have heard countless times over the years at churches, schools, places of employment, and government. Likely, you have heard it used as well. But personally, I’ve never really liked it.

The problem is not that the statement is wrong… teenagers really are the future leaders of our organizations. The problem with the statement is that it’s incomplete. Teenagers are our future, but they are also our present. And the view that only sees their value in the future is short-sighted.

When we shift our thinking from “what could teenagers accomplish in the future” to “what do they offer in the present,” we begin to look at them in a very different light.

Suddenly:

  1. We begin to expect significant contribution from them.
  2. We begin to recognize what life lessons/skills we can learn from them.
  3. We readily hand over significant responsibilities to them.
  4. We begin to dream “with” them, not just “for” them.


Advertisers understand this truth. Studies reveal young people view nearly 50,000 advertisements per year on television alone and increasingly are being exposed to advertising through other mediums (magazines, Internet, even our schools).

Marketers understand the importance of this age. And they invest significant resources communicating how much they value their resources and their financial contribution to the world today and in the future.

As parents, we need to do the same. We need to value our children and the contributions they offer today. Our world would become a far better place if we did.
To get started:

  1. Remind them how important they are to the world today.

    Use fewer words that communicate “you will be important in the future” and use more words that communicate “you can be important today.”

  2. Encourage them to discover their giftedness.

    We all have natural talents, gifts, and abilities that make us unique and set us apart from everyone else. And in many ways, life is a journey of discovering our gifts and investing into them. Give your children a head-start by starting them on that journey as soon as possible.

  3. Support their idealism.

    Teenagers embrace idealism. They believe they can change the world and desire to find an outlet with which they can accomplish that purpose. Don’t discourage them by pointing out reasons they can’t change the world. Instead, set them loose. And see what they can accomplish.

  4. Provide the resources they need to chase their contribution.

    You will want to be prepared. If you tell your teenager they can make a difference, help them discover their giftedness, and then support them in their idealism, you’ll likely need to be ready to resource them when they step out to accomplish those dreams. At that time, resource them effectively. Money may be necessary. But likely, an engaged intentionality will be far more valuable to them.

  5. Discourage conformity.

    Our world does not need another individual blindly following the crowd… now or in the future. Instead, we need revolutionaries who are prepared to live life differently. The world is changed by those who think radical ideas and dream big dreams. Encourage your child to seek out individuality.

We miss out on a beautiful opportunity when we fail to realize the potential for impact held deep within our teenagers. Teenagers are our future, no doubt. But they are also our present. And we need to treat them as such.

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Comments

  1. I have definitely heard the “children are our future” speech many times. I agree that we should recognize the positive impact kids can make today. I recently saw a stat that 4 million teens dedicated more than 300 million hours of community service across America in one year. How much more could they accomplish with parents and adults who expect more of them right here and now?

    • That’s a great statistic Nicole. Too often, stats (and attentions) focus on the negatives of teen behavior rather than the positives. Thanks for sharing this positive number with us.

  2. I sometimes cringe with the way some people talk about teenagers. Personally, I want to love my kids teenage years, not just survive them! Great way to point out we need not only be concerned with their future, but also the present.

  3. Very good points. Growing up I had a youth pastor who told us, “You aren’t the church of the future, you are the church.” That really resonated with me as a teenager because it gave me importance and validity even though I wasn’t yet an adult. I try to make a point of helping teenagers realize they are already contributing in many helpful ways.

  4. When I had only young children, I was warned over and over again to dread the teenage years. Now that I have two teenagers, I love the teenage years. I think we do ourselves a disservice by calling them “teenagers” instead of “young adults.” After all, that is how we would like them to act, and we would like to be able to treat them as responsible young people. It does take effort (and often money!) to mentor them well, but it is well worth it. Our house is full of the joy that having good kids brings. Now I dread something else — the time I won’t have two of my best friends living in my home with me any more!

  5. With two teenagers (and one almost teenager) at home this post rings true for me. I have always believed that teenagers will live up to our expectations of them (good or bad). The idea that they can and should contribute now as well as in the future is something I think is very important. I once received a compliment from a friend that was one of the most meaningful things they could have said to me, “It’s so cool how you let your kids be who they are, you don’t expect them to all like and do the same thing.” I like the words you use for this idea “Encourage their Giftedness”, I will remember these words. Thank you for sharing such a positive post about teenagers. I love living with my teenagers, although there might be a few challenging days, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

  6. I strongly encourage everyone to look up Sir Ken Robinson. His TED talks about the future of our children and how the educational system really needs to change , which ties closely to the fifth point. http://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity.html

  7. This is an amazing and insightful article. As a mother of a teenager daughter and a youth leader, I find this so helpful in helping them find and identify their individualism.

    • Thanks for your investment in teenagers as a youth leader! After working with youth leader volunteers for most of my life, I’ll just take this moment to send an extra dose of gratitude your direction.

  8. This is awesome! My heart is with teenagers, and it is so true, they are completely capable of being world changers right now. My friend runs a program for your girls coming up with social change projects: http://www.girlsforachange.org I love minimalism too, and I’ve been taking baby steps towards it, so I’ll definitely check out your book. :-)

    • Sure looks like an important work your friend is doing… and is sure sounds like you make a wonderful ambassador/cheerleader for her! That’s fantastic.

      If you do read the book, I’d love to hear your thoughts. I think it contains an important, life-giving message for a world-changing generation. And thanks to Tsh for allowing me the opportunity to draw attention to it.

  9. My daughter is practicing this very fact: she is the future — and she is using the present to make an impact on hers — and OUR — future by making a difference now.
    check her out: http://www.NextGenerationVoters.com

  10. I love the teen-aged years with my kids, too! And I love the entire premise of this post. Thanks!

  11. “Use fewer words that communicate “you will be important in the future” and use more words that communicate “you can be important today.”” I love that. Teenagers get such a bad rap but to be honest after years of hearing: “Just wait till they are teenagers…” I am loving ours. I love their thoughts and how deeply they think, I love how they ask about our day and really want to know… it really isn’t so much about “them” anymore. I love how when they help they really do help… my eight year old might be enthusiastic about a lot of jobs but my fifteen year old can be left to do them. It is great to have real live team players in our home… they are great to have around even at their grumpiest!!!

  12. Great post – I will embrace the idealism when it comes (o: My 7 year old is very creative and when I see her searching around the house for specific items (I need string… and a paper clip…), I know to offer her support because something amazing usually comes from it.

  13. Thank you so much for this post!!!
    As a teenage daughter’s mom who gladly opens her door to her friends, as a teacher for almost 3 decades now, I ‘m so glad that the wind is finally turning…
    Teenagers have been criticized for so long (if I remember well, Socrates already did 400 years BC) and a lot of people seem to simply avoid them or even fear or jealous them…
    Of course, they still have a lot to learn but that’s wonderful in itself, they can become so much better than we ever were, they can dream of anything, they can imagine so much and have got a brand new enthusiasm…
    It’s up to us to take care of that enthusiasm, to never push their dreams aside and to give them at least one chance to become men and women of peace and vision…

  14. Thank you for this post! Excellent, necessary reminders!

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  16. Hi Joshua,
    I wandered upon your post while searching for positive stories about teenagers. Yours is a message I’ve been sending parents for over 30 years as a clinical social worker in Sacramento, CA. I wholeheartedly support your premise and for what it is worth I hope to be contributing to the change in consciousness when it comes to teenagers by tweeting (https://twitter.com/rayericksonlcsw) GOOD NEWS ABOUT TEENAGERS twice daily. Thanks for all you are doing to change the way the world views teens. Ray Erickson, LCSW

  17. Really the blogging is spreading its wings rapidly. Your write

  18. I must say, I thought this was a pretty interesting read when it comes to this topic.

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