For the last few days I’ve been on the road with my youthhood friend Jimmy. Just like good friends do, we covered the range of topics, eventually stumbling onto youth work. He’s done a bit in the past, and served on CommonAction’s board.
Talking about things Jimmy reminded me that sometimes in life we try to force the future. It’s like that with youth work, parenting and school. As well-meaning adults we try to force the future of young people all the time. Rather than focus on where youth are at and what youth are doing right now we try to see into an idyllic future that we have ultimately prescribed for them. Our high schools give teens the ability to choose which classes to take, but we’ve already decided which they can choose from and why we offer them. At home we tell our kids to behave their manners, but haven’t taught why manners matter and when they don’t serve us well. In our communitities we make young people responible for completing community service but haven’t shown the rights and respect that should come accordingly.
As ethically response-able adults we should do more than force the future onto youth. There are no inevitabilities in life, and we shouldn’t behave that way, no matter how well-intended we are. There is another way.
There is the cheesey adage that if you love someone you should let it go; if it was meant to be they will come back to you. I misunderstood that for a long time, thinking it was talking exclusively about long term relationships. Today Jimmy helped me understand this can apply to the immediate, too; rather than trying to force youth into convenient boxes we can help them set goals for themselves. Instead of making them write scripts for their lives we can encourage them to learn the skills and habits needed to navigate the changes that invariably come in life.
If the youth we work with choose our program, our school or our community then we should honor and appreciate that choice. And then be excited! We have things to do – together. I want to thank everyone who has ever chosen to do things with me – you rawk. Wohoo!