Equality in Education: How to Empower Young People
I have always been a firm believer in the idea that young people are capable of great things.
Since 2000, when I launched the Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes, I have had the unique honor of seeing firsthand the many ways that young people can impact our world and affect change.
From innovative efforts to save rainforest gorillas and other endangered species to helping families battle food insecurities and homelessness in urban areas, I have seen young people step up to do creative things to help solve our world’s problems because they were empowered to do so.
When we take the time to build confidence in our children and give them the tools to be critical thinkers and strong decision-makers, they learn to trust themselves, push themselves, and see obstacles as opportunities. Empowered young people have the courage to take risks and are able to trust their own instincts and ideas to carry them into new challenges and experiences.
They know that it’s okay to think for yourself, that you can use your voice for good, and that any one person, young or old, has the ability to make a difference.
So how do you help the young people in your life feel empowered? Here are some things you can do.
Educate them about their community.
They say knowledge is power because education is truly one of the most empowering things you can offer someone. Once you understand how something works — or why it doesn’t — you can better become a part of the solution and inspire change.
Start by helping young people get to know their own community and how it functions. Encourage children to learn how their community works, from public health and education to politics and policing. Take your children with you to vote and talk to them about the different offices, volunteer with them at a local community center or event, or take a tour of your local fire station. These are all great ways for young people to see their community and its leaders in action.
As they learn about the different facets of what it takes to make a community go, they will begin to understand how they fit into it, what things need attention and support, and how they might carve out a space for themselves to make a difference in the place they call home.
Encourage them to explore.
From far away lands to different cultures living right in their own backyards, encouraging young people to explore other people, places, and things will give them the ability to relate to others in meaningful ways.
Exploration allows all of us to encounter new perspectives and connect over shared experiences. It gives us empathy and builds clarity so we can better communicate with a variety of different people in many different circumstances.
Being able to communicate is empowering because it allows young people to learn from others while leaving a mark on them too.
But don’t feel like you have to go on a trip to South America to encourage exploration. Books are an amazing vehicle that can take children to faraway places to meet new people and even bring a little magic into the comfort of your home.
Allow them to make their own decisions.
From a very young age, being allowed to make your own choices teaches you that others trust you and you can, in turn, trust yourself. It builds courage and helps you know that it’s okay to have your own opinions because you don’t need anyone else’s to get by.
Simply letting your child pick what to wear, even from among a few choices, is an easy way to start. Let them choose which pants to wear to school tomorrow, or which vegetable the family will have for dinner tonight, and then don’t try to change their mind, even if they pick the lima beans.
Listen more and talk less.
Adults tend to have a lot to say, especially when it comes to young people, but listening is just as critical.
When we listen to young people we teach them that they have a voice and that their opinions and thoughts are relevant. When they know their ideas have merit and their voices have power, they will be more willing to think outside the box and share their creativity with others.
Plus, young people often give birth to innovative ideas that offer a fresh take on things which means listening doesn’t just empower them, it empowers us too!
Empowered young people have the skills, abilities, and motivation to make a huge difference in our world. Helping them build these tools will not only benefit them in the future but all of us who make up this big, beautiful world.