I believe passionately in the power that young people have to change the narrative of the future, and the most powerful step adults can make towards a better tomorrow is to foster that hope and drive in our young people. Making sure our kids know the stories of our world’s authentic heroes, those people who are truly making a meaningful difference in the world, is one important way to help ensure a positive future for ourselves and our fellow creatures.
My fundamental belief in the energy and enthusiasm of the next generation is one of the reasons I created the Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes. During a book tour in 1999, I met some young people who were cynical and discouraged, and who didn’t believe they mattered at all. Speaking to them helped me realize many children need role models that are more real than the fictional heroes in my novels. Today’s young people deserve to hear stories of kids who are really changing the world – people just like them who have not only realized they have the power to do something, but who are using that power to change things for the better. We need heroes today more than ever, and every year the Gloria Barron Prize works to share the stories of real heroic kids with the hope that their stories may inspire others.
Here are a few ideas to inspire children:
1. Talk (and read) to them about people who have made or are making a difference in the world, including historical, fictional, and “real-life” heroes. I have discovered, both in speaking with thousands of students each year and being the father of five children, that nothing is more powerful than stories of real young people who are making the world a better place.
2. Discuss heroic qualities such as courage, commitment, and compassion. Brainstorm what it takes deep inside oneself to “make a difference.”
3. Encourage your children to get involved in volunteer work. Start by identifying what they’re already passionate about — like animals or art or sports — and help them brainstorm ways they could use their skills and interests to benefit others. I have found that many young people — including the most inspiring of our Barron Prize winners — find their service work growing out of their existing interests in this authentic and very personal way.
4. Lead by example. Make positive choices in your own life. Pursue a passion that is also helpful to others in some way. Even the smallest acts of goodness matter.
That last point is perhaps most important — while young people certainly embody our best hope for the future, making a difference in the world isn’t only the responsibility of our children! What we grownups do with our time, what we care about, how we treat others… these are choices we all make daily. Over time, these choices — to check on a neighbor, to treat a stranger kindly, to become part of a caring community — become our footsteps on the trail of life, and those footsteps become our journey, with every choice we make saying something about who we are. Let the story of who you are be a tale of someone advocating for good.
- Volunteer for a cause you believe in. One of the most valuable ways you can give back to your community is by donating your time and talents to a cause that means a lot to you.
- Donate to a charity or organization, if you can. Many resources exist to help you discover causes that are changing the world through their humanitarian or environmental efforts.
- Inspire children. Teach the next generation to care for their world and all the creatures in it, including their fellow human beings.
- Spread kindness. Every act of kindness, whether random or calculated, is a source of inspiration to those around us. Spread kindness everywhere you go in the hopes that it will be contagious!
How will you make a difference in the world today?