Teens & Technology: Tuned In or Turned Off?

Teens & Technology: Tuned In or Turned Off?A photo circulating across social media shows a group of teenagers preoccupied with their cell phones as they sit on a bench in front of Rembrandt’s The Night Watch at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. 

An adult posted this image on Facebook with the words, “We are drowning in information while starving for wisdom.” Many comments included:

“Can’t those kids disconnect from their phones for two seconds? How disrespectful!”

“This explains why kids can’t carry on a decent conversation.”

“That’s what’s wrong with teenagers: They are completely tuned out and turned off from things going on around them.”

Are they? Or is this a modern version of “judging a book by its cover?”

Things aren’t always as they appear. I added a response to the Facebook stream:

Why are the teens focused on their cell phones? Are they taking selfies? Or are they interested in learning more about the artist, Rembrandt? If the artist is Dutch, is he from Holland or the Netherlands (or both?)? Are they inviting friends to the museum? Letting other friends know what part of the museum they’re in? Wondering if they can purchase a poster of “The Night Watch” at the museum gift store? Unlike the painting, the image of the teens offers very little information because we can’t see their cell phone screens. Much of the story is left untold.

Twenty-first century teens grew up with technology – it’s part of how they communicate with one another. The cell phone does not mean that they’re not tuned in; it just means they’re tuned in differently. If we, as adults, are curious – it’s up to us to ask.

As a college instructor, I established very clear rules about cell phone use during class. I seethed when students tried to secretly use their Smartphones during class. I called them out – by name – and asked them to put their cell phones away. Some of them deliberately ignored my instructions …

Teens & Technology: Tuned In or Turned Off?… until I observed their use of mobile devices while they worked on small group projects. Some students looked up definitions of unfamiliar words on their cell phones. Others searched for information related to their projects. Some watched YouTube videos and online PowerPoint presentations with tutorials about how to deliver an engaging presentation. They shared website links with one another via text messaging. They used their phone cameras to video record their deliveries as they practiced their presentations.

I was embarrassed.

What I thought was going on and what was actually going on as students used their mobile devices were two very different things. I am sure a few students used their cell phones to check email or text their friends. However, the number of students who used iPhones and iPads to advance their own learning far outweighed technology abuses.

“I completely misunderstood how you used the technology tools available to you to learn during instruction,” I explained. “Please continue to use these tools if they are helpful as you complete future assignments.”

“Really?” asked one of the students. “I thought you hated cell phones, Dr. Connor.”

“I hate cell phone abuse that interferes with learning and our connections to one another,” I answered. “I have a new perspective as I watched you use technology from the back of the classroom today. I apologize. And thank you.”

We established one more classroom technology rule that was simple: Keep your cell phones away unless you need it.

In the classes that followed, students respectfully muted their cell phones; the screens faced the desks. When one of them picked up their Smartphone, I was excited because I knew they were looking for information that would take learning experiences to a deeper level. Rather than prohibit cell phone and technology use in the classroom, I incorporated its use during instruction and it elevated our academic and relational experiences.

In an episode of Wall Street Journal Live’s Lunch BreakTanya Rivero interviews educators and uncovers how some schools throughout the country spark creativity and learning in classrooms as students use cell phones to complete homework.

Common Sense Media conducted a study and found that 50% of the surveyed teens admitted they were addicted to their mobile devices. Furthermore, 27% of the parents surveyed admitted their own mobile device addictions – and teens agreed. To be honest, I experienced many more cell phone abuses and mobile device disengagement when I taught adult students over 30 than teens and millennials. I believe this is due to the fact that teens and millennials are much more familiar with all of the technological advantages that cell phone use offers to them.

There is so much to learn from teens about technology! For example, many young people create YouTube videos to explain how to use and post photos on Snapchat. Or use hashtags on Instagram. They can show you how to create and edit a video on YouTube or start your own YouTube channel. Questions become gateways to conversations – and conversations deepen relationships.

Although mobile devices offer detours and provide users with a means of escape, adults often assume teens are more interested in connections with their cell phones than in personal face-to-face conversations. Nothing could be further from the truth. Teens are starving for opportunities to build relationships – with adults and with one another. It’s up to adults to invite communication.

Positive communication starts with a dialogue.

In what positive ways are you connecting with the young people in your life?


Teens have a lot to say. Are you listening? Tune into their conversations with tips from Hear the Voices of Our Youth.

Encourage youth to explore their passions. Discover Why We Must Talk to Young People About Their Dreams.

Use these suggestions from How to Be a Good Role Model to pump up the example you want to inspire teens.

If you want to involve more young people in your organization, check out these tips from What You Must Do to Invite & Involve Youth (So They Want to Stay).


Disclaimer:  This site contains affiliate links to products.  I may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.  I only promote products I use and highly recommend.  My full disclosure is here.


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Guest Blogger: Amy Oestreicher - How I Learned to Love My JourneyGuest blogger, Amy Oestreicher, is a PTSD peer-to-peer specialist, artist, author, Huffington Post writer, TEDx and RAINN speaker, health advocate, award-winning actress, and playwright. She shares lessons from trauma through her writing, art, performance, and inspirational speaking.

I’ve spent a lot of time “waiting” in my life. As a kid I grew antsy with impatience, waiting until I was “older” to start dating, to go to the mall unsupervised, to learn how to drive. I was counting the days until I turned 18, giddy at the idea of college and independence at last. Two weeks after I turned 18, I was pulled into another realm where “waiting” took on an entirely new meaning.

When an unforeseen blood clot caused my body to go into septic shock, my life changed forever. Now, it was my devoted family who waited patiently and lovingly while I recovered from a three-month coma. When I awoke, I waited many more months before I could take a breath of outside air once again. I became extremely well-versed in patience — little did I know that I’ve have to wait eight more months before I was discharged from the ICU, six years before I could drink a sip of water or eat a morsel of food again and 27 surgeries before doctors could create a makeshift digestive system for me.

As a born go-getter, I’ve never been great with “patience.” So I became extremely frustrated as doctors explained to me how “it would be a long road to recovery, but I’ll get there.” But healing physically and recovering my “self” emotionally, feeling my aliveness as well as being alive… I learned that this is a daily process, a life-long one. Life will not always be perfect, and there’s no reason to wait until things are.

I had this fantasy that the day I was finally discharged from the hospital, everything would be “back to normal.” I’d have my old body back — devoid of any medical scars, tubes, bags or IVs. I’d be eating and drinking again. I’d be able to run, jump and leap like I had in dance class just the week before my coma. These surgeries would just be a “blip” in my life, and now it could proceed as it was meant to.

But I learned something far better. I learned my life as I knew it had shattered, but I could reassemble the pieces differently, but still beautifully — like a mosaic. These “imperfect” shards of a life I longed to reclaim could create a work of art even greater, using the grout of experience and newfound wisdom.

Over a decade has passed since my life took an unexpected detour. It was a messy detour that put most of my anticipated life plans on hold, if not changing them completely. But this detour turned into the richest time in my life. To this day, I am still healing physically and emotionally. Every morning I make a new attempt to find who I am and to discover who I am becoming. If I had waited for life to be “perfect,” or at least for life to go back to “how it was,” I would have missed out on so many things. I would have never mounted my first solo art show after learning to paint in the hospital. I would have never written a one-woman musical about my life that I’ve performed for five years or given a TEDx Talk… If I hadn’t had the audacity to set up an online dating profile for myself while still in my hospital gown, on IVs and recovering from a disastrous surgery, I would never have married the first love of my life.  And when I was suddenly hit with a divorce less than a year later, I learned that there is never a reason to wait to fully love yourself.  

Not “waiting” for life to happen can mean simply showing up and staying open to where the path may lead.  Even with wounds that still haven’t healed – and that’s not a metaphor – I’m on the road.  If I’m willing to feel, I’ll always have my heart to guide me. Apparently you don’t need a stomach to survive, but, a heart is indispensable!  

They say that all good things come to those who wait. But what for? Every day is an opportunity to learn, to grow and better myself. I love the imperfect twists and turns my life has taken, simply because they have made me who I am. It has been a mess, having life as I knew it shattered to pieces. But bit by bit it’s reassembling — different, imperfect, but beautiful all the same.


As the creator of the Gutless & Grateful, Amy’s one-woman autobiographical musical, she’s toured theatres nationwide, along with a program combining mental health advocacy, sexual assault awareness  and Broadway Theatre for college campuses. More information at www.amyoes.com

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How to Stand Up to Bullies

How to Stand Up to Bullies

Jennifer Lawrence, Justin Timberlake, Taylor Swift, Robert Patterson, Miley Cyrus, Marshall Mathers (Eminem), and Lady Gaga share more than celebrity status.  They know what it’s like to be bullied.

“Girls can be mean,” said Jennifer Lawrence.  “A popular girl once gave me invitations to hand out to her birthday party – a party I wasn’t invited to.”

“I grew up in Tennessee,” explained Justin Timberlake.  “If you didn’t play football, you were a sissy.  I got slurs all the time because I was in music and art.”

“Some of the girls in my school were big and tough.  I was scrawny and short,” admitted Miley Cyrus.  “They shoved me in the school bathroom where I was trapped.  I banged on the door until my fists hurt.  Nobody came.   waited for someone to rescue me. I wondered how my life got so messed up.”

Rather than giving the past the power to control them, each one of them carved out a new course.  As artists and anti-bullying activists, they encourage others, particularly young people, to speak out against bullying.

Memories of bullying are often internalized and become part of the tape many victims play in their own heads.  Without a means of defense to protect themselves, those who have been bullied often experience depression, anxiety, sadness, loneliness, and fear.  Many children who are bullied carry those unresolved issues with them into adulthood.

Like Jennifer and Miley, I did not have skills to protect myself from bullying.  “Turn the other cheek” and “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all” were ingrained into my character.  When I was ridiculed and bullied by others – particularly by those I most admired – I sank into a world of silence.  I withdrew from the world.

I wanted to run away to a place where I could reinvent myself after I graduated from high school.  I saved money and enrolled at a college far from home.  However, I carried the voices of insults and bullying inside me – and I became my own worst enemy.  Although I was president of the student government association and nominated for many campus leadership awards, I was drowning in depression.  I did not find my own voice until many years later as a teacher in an urban school district.  I had to choose whether I was going to allow others to intimidate me – or learn how to chart my own course.

Dr. Dan Owleus, founder of the Owleus Bullying Prevention Program and author of Bullying at School: What We Know and What We Can Do, explains, “Bullying poisons the educational environment and affects the learning of every child.”  Approximately one out of every four students reports being bullied at school (National Center for Educational Statistics, 2015).  Sixty-four percent of the children who were bullied in schools did not report it (National Center for Educational Evaluation and Regional Assistance, 2010).

Fortunately, schools and organizations with anti-bullying prevention programs often report a 20-25% decrease in bullying behaviors. More than half of the bullying situations involving youth stop when a peer intervenes on behalf of the individual being bullied.

Although programs designed to address bullying often promote positive character values, we must do more than enforce consequences after bullying has already occurred.  We must teach kids how to take good care of themselves before they feel threatened by a bully.

Try these suggestions if you (or someone you care about) is intimidated or harassed by a bully:

How to Stand Up to Bullies

  1. Act with ConfidenceYou are much less likely to be picked on if you behave with self-assurance.  Make a list of all of your positive qualities and keep it in a place where you can reread it if you feel like your confidence is shaky. Act as if you already possess strong self-confidence.  Be proud of who you are. Walk with your head up.
  2. Be Positive and Strong.  If a bully says something unkind to you, ignore it.  Or say something like “I hope your day gets better” and walk away.  Show in your behavior that the bully has no power over you.  Refuse to allow a bully to control your response or decide what you believe about yourself.
  3. Set Appropriate Boundaries.  Sometimes if you ignore repeated bullying, it escalates.  Bullies are cowards. Silent victims are their favorite targets.  Say in a strong, assertive voice, “Stop!” and leave the situation.  Take charge of your space.
  4. Stay Calm. Bullies often want you to argue or fight with them.  Take a breath.  Refuse to react with anger; a bully hopes you’ll respond in a way that gives him or her an invitation to engage in combat.
  5. Remember What’s True. If a bully calls you hurtful names, be direct and say, “No, I’m not” or “I don’t know where you get your information, but it’s wrong.” Remind yourself: If it sounds or feels unkind, it’s not true. It’s not important what a bully thinks about you – what matters is what YOU think about you.
  6. Stay with the Crowd.  Don’t be caught in situations where you are by yourself, especially if you are being bullied by someone.  Follow others into the restroom if you need to use it.  Walk with others in the halls between classes.
  7. Ask for Help.  Do not believe only a coward would tell an adult.  It takes great courage to inform an adult if you’re being bullied.  Ask to be moved to a different class.  Contact the principal.  Write your teacher a note and explain the situation.  Tell the bus driver and sit at the front of the bus.
  8. Talk to Someone. Make an appointment with your school counselor.  Explore ways you can strengthen your confidence and communication skills.  Join a support group.  Build a support system.  Create a plan with a caring adult about how to work through a situation involving a bully.
  9. Focus on Positive Thoughts.  Don’t let negative self-talk get you down. Create positive affirmations (Use these tips to get you started).  Find inspiring quotes or words of encouragement to remember and repeat to yourself.
  10. Get Informed. Learn more about bullying and how to deal with it from information offered on websites such as StopBullying.gov, Kids Against Bullying, StompOutBullying.org, and Pacer’s National Bullying Prevention Center.  Consider these books and check out the previews of Positive: A Memoir by Paige Rawl, Blubber by Judy Blume, or Bystander by James Preller.
It's not important what a bully thinks about you - what matters is what YOU think about you.Click To Tweet

Many years after I experienced bullying in high school, I shared my feelings with a counselor.  I asked him, “Why me? Why did the bullies single me out?”  The counselor answered, “Because you took it.”

He was right.

I didn’t tell anyone.  I didn’t talk to anyone about it.  I believed what the bullies said was true.  I believed everyone hated me. I believed I was worthless.  It was up to me to change my thoughts and my beliefs.

When you get sick of tired of being sick and tired, you change your behavior.  When I changed my behavior and refused to be threatened and controlled by bullies, the harassment stopped.

I once heard a wise seventh grader say, “Ignore the people who talk behind your back. That’s where they belong: Behind you.”  When children (and adults) set strong personal boundaries and refuse to allow others to define who they are, they discover confidence.  Remember that your future is always ahead of you; never behind you.

What can you do if someone bullies you? What can you do if you see someone bully another person?

Anita Washington, popular host of The Emotional Happiness with That Anita Live, discuss How to Handle Bullying. A podcast of our discussion is also available.

Free yourself from negative, self-defeating thoughts with suggestions from Replace Old Tapes with New Messages.

Replace negative thoughts with positive affirmation. Discover how to Put the Positive in Your Affirmation.

Are you ready to make a change in your life? Begin with these tips from What You Must Let Go to Move Forward.

Find 8 Ways to Feel Positive (Even When Everything Seems Wrong).

Get inspired with wonderful words from 11 Inspiring Quotes When You Need Encouragement.

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How to Respond When a Young Person Dies

How to Respond When a Young Person DiesMichael George Smith, Jr.‘s body was discovered hanging from a tree in Atlanta’s Piedmont Park. It was not a public lynching as many people feared. It was a suicide.

He was young. He was gay. Michael believed the only way he could silence the emotional pain and inability to make peace with his identity was to end his life.

I was a youth minister at a church when I received a call about Becca.  Karli, Becca’s best friend, blamed herself for Becca’s death.

“I knew she was sad, but I didn’t know she wanted to kill herself,” Karli cried.

Becca was 17 years old when she decided she no longer could bear the dark, consuming hole of depression.  Her mother found her lifeless body in the attic.  Becca swallowed a handful of sleeping pills, wrapped herself in a blanket, clung to a teddy bear, and never woke up.

“I begged Becca to talk to a counselor. I told her I would go with her if she wanted me to, but she refused,” cried Karli. “She trusted me. I thought it was my job to protect her privacy. She said she wanted to die, but I didn’t think she’d actually do it.”

The death of a child or teenager confuses and devastates everyone who loves them.

Barbara Hailey was a friend of mine in high school.  Her son, Jake, was killed in an automobile accident in 2010. 

The pain of his loss are as real and deep as they were when she first received news about his death.  In a blog post called A Beautiful DifferenceBarb wrote:

What a beautiful difference a single life can make. Those words were on a sympathy card I received almost five years ago when I lost my 18 year old son in a car accident.  Jake had just graduated from high school and was getting ready to leave for college when he was killed one night on a dark country road.  I thought his life was just beginning, but I was wrong.  I remember thinking that I couldn’t believe that this is how his story ended.  He had so much more to do.

Over the years, people have asked if I am or suggested I should be “over it” or that I should be “moving on.”  The truth is, I will never be “over it” and don’t want to be:  “It” is my only son.  As for moving on, my life is going forward, but it will never be the same.  I am as happy as I can be under the circumstances.  I have a beautiful and talented daughter, a great man in my life (who has the same dry wit as Jake), and I am blessed with family and friends.   However, no matter what happens in the future, there will always be a empty chair at my table and an empty place in my heart.  Hallmark got it right this time: What a beautiful difference a single life can make.

What do you say to someone who is mourning the death of a child or teen?  Harold Kushner, author of When Bad Things Happen to Good People, lost his son, Aaron, when he was 14 years old. 

"How to Respond When a Young Person Dies" @drjulieconnorKushner explained, “At some of the darkest moments in my life, some people I thought of as friends deserted me — some because they cared about me and it hurt them to see me in pain; others because I reminded them of their own vulnerability and that was more than they could handle.  But real friends overcame their discomfort and came to sit with me.  If they had not words to make me feel better, they sat in silence (much better than saying, “You’ll get over it” or “It’s not so bad; others have it worse”) and I loved them for it.”

So, what don’t you say to someone grieving the loss of a child or teenager?  Laurie Burrows Grad offers this list of the worst platitudes and insensitive clichés to those in mourning:

He’s in a better place. (A better place would be beside me now.)
Everything happens for a reason. (There is no rhyme or reason for this kind of loss.)
Time heals all wounds. (Time doesn’t heal all wounds, although healing takes time.)
Try not to cry. He wouldn’t want you to cry. (He’d be bawling his eyes out.)
It is time to put this behind you. (There is no timetable for grief.)
If you think this is bad, let me tell you about the time … (No comparisons, please.)
I know how you feel. (Do we ever really know how someone feels?)
Let me tell you about my own loss, which is similar to yours. (Please just listen and acknowledge my loss.)
You’ll get through it. Be strong. (This tells people to hold on to their grief and not let it out.)

Grad suggests these kind words to comfort someone in times of grief:

I am sorry for your loss.
I love you.
I wish I had the right words to comfort you. Just know that I care.
I don’t know how you feel, but I am available to help in any way I can.
How can I help or support you?
My favorite memory of your loved one is …
How are you doing?
Say nothing.  Listen.  Be with the person.

How can parents, teachers, and adults help children and teens cope with death?

Jeff Yalden, youth motivational speaker, offers these suggestions to parents, youth leaders, teachers, and to anyone who mourns the loss of a child or teen.

Here are suggested responses:  Be physically present, show warmth and compassion, be patient, allow the teen to talk about it, listen carefully, acknowledge feelings, show an understanding of what happened, give reasonable reassurance and follow through on promises and agreements made.  Teens will try to make some sense of what happened and it is important for them to come to a resolution about the event.  Carefully challenge any negative conclusions and reinforce the positive ones.

The following behaviors can be harmful:  Focus on self instead of the teen, deny the seriousness of the event, shrug off the teen’s feelings, tell the teen not to think or talk about it, make assumptions, overreact with anxiety or anger, withdraw from the teen, or make major changes in the normal household activities and routines.

What do you do when a child or teen tells you they’re thinking about taking their own lives?

In conversations with children and teens, I promise confidentiality except under the following circumstances:

* If a child or teen wants to hurt themselves

* If a child or teen plans to hurt someone else 
* If a child or teen is being bullied or bullying someone else
* If a child or teen is involved with drugs or alcohol

I don’t share their secrets with everyone.  I share appropriate information to the appropriate people at the appropriate time.  When children or teens reveal fearful thoughts or dangerous behaviors within a cushion of boundaries, they know they have a safe place to land.  They understand they do not have to face challenges alone.

If a child or teen talks to you about taking their lives, it is a desperate cry for help.  Use these tips to guide the conversation and steer them to appropriate channels who can provide support:

  • The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides free and confidential support, prevention, and crisis resources for loved ones and professionals. 
  • Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) to talk to a professional.  Find the nearest Suicide Prevention Lifeline Crisis Center on National Suicide Prevention Lifeline website.
  • Pay attention to suicide warnings and contact a professional immediately if you hear a child or teen say:
    • “Nothing matters.”
    • “I wonder if anyone would come to my funeral?”
    • “Sometimes I wish I could just go to sleep and never wake up.”
    • “Everyone would be better off without me.”
    • “You won’t have to worry about me much longer.”
  • Engage in conversations.  Never discount their feelings.  Reassure a child or teen that you respect their feelings.  
  • Seek professional treatment and counseling to support your child or teen as soon as possible.  Nine in 10 teens who commit suicide were previously diagnosed with a mental health issue such as depression or anxiety disorders.
  • Find a support group for the child or teen where he or she can talk about their feelings in a safe environment.

#BeThe1To Prevent SuicideSuicide feels like an option when there are no options left.   The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline suggests these five steps:

#BeThe1To Ask.  Ask the tough question.  When somebody you know is in emotional pain, be direct.  Ask, “Are you thinking about killing yourself?”  

#BeThe1To Keep Them Safe.  Is a friend or loved one thinking about suicide?  Ask, “Do you have a plan?”  Find out if they’ve thought about how they would end their lives. 

If you can not physically intervene in someone’s attempt to hurt themselves, get help.  Call a family member.  Call 911.  Or use Emergency SOS on your iPhone or Android device to request assistance.

#BeThe1To Be There.  It is never easy to hear someone you care about describe their pain or hopelessness.  Listen with compassion without dismissing or judging their words.

#BeThe1To Help Them Connect.  Help the child or teen connect to a support system.  Work together to surround them with a network that includes family, friends, school administrators, teachers, counselors, doctors, clergy, coaches, or therapists so they have someone to reach out to for help.

When a child or teen dies – from suicide, accident, or illness – it emotionally shatters everyone close to them.

Acknowledge your own grief.  Be sad.  Remember their stories.  Allow the best part of them to become the best part of you.  Share their story with someone who desperately needs to know that the young person’s life mattered.

How do you comfort someone who lost a child?  


Use these tips from Politics, Sex, Race, God, & Other Controversial Topics Kids Discuss at School to navigate conversations about tough issues with children and teens.

Grief, Change, and Resurrection offers encouragement if you (or someone you love) is experiencing change or loss.

Mothers don’t necessarily give birth to their children. Motherhood is a Matter of Perspective.

Discover comfort from 11 Inspiring Quotes When You Need Encouragement.

How to Get Through Tough Times gives you new tools to move forward when you face difficult challenges.


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Talking to Teens About Social Issues

Talking to Teens About Social Issues

After speaking at a leadership conference, I left a hotel in downtown Atlanta to look for a good place to eat.  A large crowd of young demonstrators poured into the streets.

They held signs with powerful messages such as “Stand Up to Racism” and “Pro-Black does not mean Anti-White.”  It was a peaceful protest that cried out for social justice.

“If you don’t stand up for injustice, you quietly allow it,” insisted Attiyah Ali.  “If we all go in our separate corners by religion, race, color, and dig our heels in the ground, we’re never going to come up with a solution.”

“We are standing together as a unit, as a people, regardless of black, white, Chinese, Mexican, Asian,” agreed a young protester.  “It doesn’t matter what you are or who you are, at the end of the day, today is the day we need to stand.”

Kasim Reed, former mayor of Atlanta, was among those gathered at the demonstration.  His presence showed the demonstrators that he valued what they had to say.  And he wanted to listen.

“I understand this is this generation’s protest,” said Reed.  “Let this be the best version of ourselves.”

It may feel uncomfortable to hear negative criticism from the mouths of teens and young adults, but we have a responsibility to listen.  More than half of the world’s population is under the age of 30.  Katja Iversen, CEO of Women Deliver, maintains, “That means that more than 3.5 billion young people represent 3.5 billion opportunities for change.”

Teens mature into volunteers, activists, community leaders, and elected officials when they have opportunities to join in the dialogue about critical issues that are important to all of us.  We invite them into active involvement at local events and organizations by listening to them and providing safe opportunities to express their thoughts and opinions:

  • Openly discuss issues with young people.  Don’t be afraid to raise sensitive topics for discussion.  They are ready for good debate that challenges them to think, respond, and garner your respect.
  • Create norms for discussion.  Set ground rules for discussion that do not allow personal attacks.  Use “I” statements (good example: “I think …;” poor example: “He’s an idiot.”).  Agree to hear each other out without interrupting one another.
  • Challenge their sources of information.  Encourage teens to explain the reasoning that supports their opinions.  Where do they look for reliable information?  Where do you find reliable sources?  How do you separate facts from fiction?
  • Agree upon mutual respect.  You may not share the same opinions as others, but do not judge or criticize. Ask questions.  Listen.  Allow one another to own personal opinions.
  • Try to find common ground.  Teens may have views that are drastically different from your own point of view.  What issues are important to all people involved in the discussions?  What common core values connect you to one another?
  • Avoid giving unsolicited advice.  There is an appropriate time and place to teach and give advice, but it is usually best received when it is asked for – especially during a discussion.
  • Express gratitude for opportunities to dialogue.  Thank them for sharing their opinions and listening to you.  Invite them to come back to continue discussion.  Dialogue strengthens relationships.
  • Expect dialogue to get messy – and it’s okay.  When you allow others to share personal opinions, you may not reach a mutual agreement.  Though you may not share the same beliefs; it’s important that you’re willing to listen to one another.

Many adults claim that teens are our future – but they are more than our future; they have something critically important to add to social discussions today. In the present. Now. 

Teens are tuned in to current events and aware of social concerns. They are hungry to join the discussion. And they are starving for opportunities to dialogue with adults who will listen to them.

Civil rights activist, Martin Luther King, Jr., believed, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” The only way to build relationships with our youth is through dialogue. The only way to ignite their interest in political and social activism is to let them know that their participation matters. That they matter.

Young adults are far less likely to vote than older citizens. When we do not value what they have to say about political issues, the power of elected government is weakened. Talking to Teens About Social Issues

In his most famous speech, The Gettysburg Address, President Abraham Lincoln rallied the importance of our entire citizenry; claiming “that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.”

Tears streamed down my cheeks as I stood, with my hand over my heart, and watched the young men and women march down the streets of downtown Atlanta. I admired their courage to speak out against injustice and to stand together in solidarity. I could not have been more proud of them.

I felt proud to be an American.

Our youth are speaking out. Are you listening?


How can you become a better listener?


Kids are talking about everything they’re not supposed to talk about. Here’s what you can do to join the dialogue about Politics, God, Race, Sex, and Other Controversial Topics Kids Discuss at School.

Use these suggestions from How to Be a Good Role Model to pump up the example you want to inspire teens.

If you want to involve more young people in your organization, check out these tips from What You Must Do to Invite & Involve Youth (So They Want to Stay).

Encourage youth to explore their passions. Discover Why We Must Talk to Young People About Their Dreams.


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