September 10, 2013

For the Strength of Youth

It is a proven fact of life that generations younger than us will someday be the leaders, the workers, and the future of our countries. Leaders, both political and religious quote it all the time, famous singers like Whitney Houston sang about it too. I agree—the youth are our future.

This weekend I was invited to be on a panel for a group of young women ages 12-18. Of course I said yes, Lady Hiva and I love to spend time around the youth. They have a contagious energy. Every time that we spend some quality time around them we leave with a sense of respect for them.

The panel was made up of me, and other guy, a mother, and two of the older young women. I can tell you that I was so impressed with the answers that were given. Each of the girls wrote questions to the panel anonymously a few weeks earlier. Each of us on the panel were sent these questions a week before. so we could  answer them.

My questions were:
1. What skills would you say your wife developed as a young woman that best prepared her for being a wife and mother?

2. How do I get a young man to notice me?

3.  We are told to dress modestly but in high school it feels like the girls who dress immodestly get all the attention--even from some of the boys who seem nice.  Why is it such a big deal to dress modestly?

As I pondered these questions and what I would say I was overcome with the pressure these teenagers face. They live in a world inundated with information. They are taught that their worth is completely physical and sexual. It is a place where innocence is stolen far earlier than it should be. Movies and video games distorts death and violence as if it were inconsequential. Their role media models make being rude, selfish, and immoral look normal. If you don’t believe me think about popular reality shows like the Kardashians, anything on MTV, Or how about Miley Cyrus’ crude performance a few weeks ago.

It is no wonder they struggle to understand themselves. Peer pressure and mixed signals are coming at them on high at a time when self-esteem is low.

The questions I was given needed to be given straight forward answers. The influences listed above don’t ‘sugar coat,’ ‘beat around the bush,’ or get embarrassed about their presentations. Neither should we be. These youth need to know there are choices. They don’t have to follow the crowd or lower their values just to fit in and feel wanted.

I was thankful that the other four members of the panel were just as upfront and honest about with their answers. I was especially impressed with the two young women, who in front of their peers shared how they confront issues every day and stayed true to their values.

I was emotional (ok, you know I am always emotional) as I told them that more than anything, they need to understand their own self-worth. They need to know that there are people that love them—that they are children of God. They don’t have to bend to the societal winds to feel accepted. Sadly, I feel that we as parents or leaders don’t tell them this enough.

One of my favorite parts of the book, THE HELP by Kathryn Stockett is when the nanny tells her young child that she is, “Smart, she is kind and she is important.” As I walked out of that room I realized that the youth do have a strength about them. They are facing things faster and earlier than we ever had to face. They have to decide the type of character they will develop sooner than we did. There is no time to loiter in the grey, they have to find their values and stick with them. They are challenged daily as they stand up for those values. I tip my hat in respect to each of them because each day they are true to themselves and the person they are becoming is a triumph to be celebrated.

We, who are the parents, the leaders, the teachers and the friends, need to not hide behind our closed eyes to what these youth face. They cannot close their eyes to it as it is thrust in their face. We have to be upfront and honest about our own values and beliefs. We need to be true to ourselves so we too can say that though it is hard, we know it is worth it. We need to be the examples they are not finding anywhere else.

Procrastination is over it is time to have that conversation, ask those questions and tell them we love them. I want to finish with a quote I heard in a leadership conference a few years ago, “If not us, then who? If not now, then when?” Let’s go build our future.

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