Every two years, Camp Fire conducts a competitive process to select the Chair for our national Youth Advisory Cabinet. The Cabinet is comprised of 17 high school and college students, also competitively selected, and a representative from Gamma Phi Beta Sorority, one of our principal national partners. This year, we had outstanding candidates for Chair – all of whom lift their voice and take action to shape their world.
The candidates were asked: What is the most pressing issue facing youth today?
Their responses, and our subsequent discussions, are well worth sharing. Apathy was named – apathy that keeps young people from voting and participating in the political process. Are young people apathetic because they don’t care? Not at all! They’re becoming apathetic because they don’t see anything changing. They don’t believe their vote makes a difference. So, they tell me, we’ll engage where our voice might matter – at a community level focused on causes and issues we can “own” and therefore impact. If they do vote, they do it only because they feel they should – not because they believe their vote will make a difference.
As one candidate wrote, “Apathy keeps young people from discovering their voice and igniting their own sparks….it is my personal mission to help them find that spark.”
I also heard a lot about self-confidence or the lack thereof. The media and others focus on teen alcohol and drug abuse, high school dropout rates, etc. Young people, on the other hand, believe that teens with a positive, healthy view of themselves – including constructive hopes for their present and futures – are far less likely to abuse themselves and far more likely to stay in school to achieve all they can.
One individual expressed it this way, “…when I think about the causes of these problems I see most stemming from a lack of…belief in oneself.”
Closely related to the issue of positive self-confidence was the pressure to conform. Nothing new there – every generation of teens has felt it. But today, that pressure has taken on a whole new face with the prevalence of bullying and cyber bullying. Young people tell us that they give up doing the things they really love (their sparks) because they don’t want to be bullied or they’re afraid of what happens if they’re not considered “cool”.
As one candidate put it, “Bright, ambitious adolescents often succumb to peer pressure…which I see every day as a high school student.”
So what do we do if this is how teens see things? First, note that in each instance, the issue is not what is happening to teens. Rather, it is how they feel about it. It is how they experience their daily lives and those of their friends.
The good news is that young people are resilient. What they tell us they need is guidance from trusted, caring adults. Not “command and control,” but guidance, coaching and support.
There is no cookie cutter approach with young people. But we do know that they want to shape their world. They want to learn how to be their best, full selves. They want to learn how to make positive choices and avoid the things that will “take them down.” They need our help to do it. They need decent, thoughtful and caring adults to be role models and leaders they can look up to.
-Cathy Tisdale, President and CEO