Meaning. Happiness. Impact.
These are all things we want for our lives. So, a question I have asked myself, as a teen, is, “What is a teen’s place in our world?” (Disclaimer: I am a teen and am optimistic, so there may be notable bias.)
Simply enough, one would say a teen’s place is in school. But it’s a lot more than that. Our world tells teens to sit idly by, keep their mouths closed and accept the way things are. That does not help anyone. So, some people say “give teens a voice,” but in my experience, they mean “let teens talk, but don’t listen to what they have to say.”
So, why should this matter to all people, including children and adults?
Well, before I start, in June 2017, I attended the Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership Seminar – Illinois Central South at Illinois Wesleyan University. HOBY, as it is called, hosts seminars all throughout the world each year for sophomores in high school. HOBY’s logo is accompanied by this phrase: Empower. Lead. Excel.
The four days of the seminar were long, intense and life-changing. I and about 170 other sophomores from all across Central and Southern Illinois, all from different backgrounds, heard from community leaders, charity workers, professional speakers and peers. Since that seminar, I have become more confident in personal, group and societal leadership.
The key takeaway I got was: If someone ever tells you that you can’t be you, they’re wrong. They’re also wrong if they tell you that you can’t use your voice and can’t stand for your values.
Teens should be aware and involved in their schools, communities and just about everything. We are the future. We will be the ones who lead the world, create change and alter perspectives. But, sadly enough, one concern that has been brought up to me is that "teens are too inexperienced; they just don’t understand real issues." To the teens who hear this: Don’t be afraid to step out there and look stupid. Life is full of trial and error, but someday you will find success if you keep pushing, stepping on toes and making others uncomfortable.
I’m sure most teen leaders can relate to me. I have spoken out about my values and what is not acceptable. But then, I received lies, no answers and flat-out disrespect. Is it disheartening? Yes. Should it stop us? Not at all. We need to stand strong for ourselves, our friends, and the people who don’t have a voice.
To those who don’t support the voices, character and values of teens: I’m sorry that you feel uncomfortable and threatened by our ambitions and potential. It’s sad that we teens have to overcome the pushback from the adults whom we should trust most. We teens today are already doing great things and will continue to do so. There’s no stopping our growth and contributions to the common good; our fire has already started.
I want all teens to know that you need to be yourself, hold your values and do not let anyone stop you. It’s your life, make it what you want to be. A teen’s place is everywhere. Teens should sit at the table, make change now and remain confident no matter the resistance.
ISAAC BROCKMAN is a senior at Seneca High School. To contact him, email Assistant Editor Julie Barichello at email@example.com.