Teens from 4-H, FFA and Ohio Farm Bureau came together at the Ohio Youth Capital Challenge to answer the question, “My community would be better if…” To address the issues they identified in their discussions, the teens broke up into teams to work on projects aimed at improving their community. Some teens wanted to solve local hunger by starting a community garden to teach about agriculture. The winning team addressed food issues by proposing a sensible policy to teach agriculture basics to all K-12 students using STEM education. They now have the ear of government officials.
Because they had an idea about how to make things better, they connected with communities and helped communities connect with agriculture.
Often young people are kept away from the table while others solve problems and make decisions. Teens need to be engaged in the process. Having a seat at the table might be where they are needed most. Here’s why.
1. “Can’t”, “won’t” and “we tried that before,” aren’t in their vocabulary. Teens make things simple, seeing solutions while others are stuck in the weeds. They tend to be more optimistic and less cynical. Their life is about discovering “how” and “why”.
2. Youth are more savvy than we admit. They know a “line” when they hear it, and spot a phony a mile away. They’re less impressed by someone’s position and more impressed with someone’s authenticity. Their questions force us to rethink positions and to explain something in new terms.
3. Teens are not perfect, but they are willing to learn. Adults are not perfect but sometimes don’t want to learn. We need each other. While teens bring new ideas and approaches, and are technologically savvy, they lack longer life experience. Adults have the life experience but are stumped when finding new ideas/ways to do things, or shut down when encountering new technology. What might we achieve together?
4. It forces everyone to prepare for the future. Succession planning is key to keeping an organization vibrant and relevant. All of us need to prepare others to thrive after they step into our shoes. In modeling that behavior, teens think about who they could prepare to step into their shoes once they graduate.
5. It keeps everyone young. I’ve been to a lot of meetings over the years and many were snoozers. Meeting with teens and college students, I am always surprised by something they say and fascinated with hearing new perspectives. They keep me from being a fuddy-duddy. They also help us to keep things fun.
Do yourself and your community a favor. Put an extra chair at the table. Invite a teen or college student to join you. You will be amazed at the results.