Everyone has heard of Greta Thunberg, the teenage Swedish climate change activist who went on a school strike to fight the climate crisis. Eventually, her one-woman protest turned into a global climate movement involving millions of activists, many of them teenagers.
Teenagers like Greta have long been at the forefront of change in this world (see: the Lowell mill girls, the newsboys’ strike of 1899, and the Little Rock Nine). And now, with widespread use of social media, more teenagers are standing up for injustice than ever before.
If your teen has started to participate in protests and other activist-related activities, it’s normal to be worried about them. What if they get into trouble? What if they get hurt? Shouldn’t they be focusing on grades and college scholarships instead?
Those are all fair questions. However, there are many tangible benefits to getting into “good trouble,” as the late John Lewis famously called it. Here are seven reasons why teen activism can be tremendously positive.
1. Activism helps teens find their voice.
While adults can use their right to vote as a way to incite change, most teenagers don’t have that option. Teens are forced to wait until they’re legally an adult before they can cast their vote in federal elections. So, how do teens make their voices heard? They protest. They hold rallies. They knock on doors and hand out flyers. This gives them the opportunity to be part of larger conversations — conversations which often involve their future.
2. Teen activists can change the world.
Sure, there are some teens who attend rallies and protests for nothing more than social media clout, but they’re in the minority. Most teen activists have a strong desire to spark real change in the world. They’re out there having debates, tossing around new ideas, and thinking about real-world issues. We need teen activists with big ideas to help us find new ways to bring about positive change.
3. It gives them a sense of purpose.
Every parent wants their child to have a sense of purpose in life. Research has shown that teens who have found their purpose in life have higher levels of life satisfaction and happiness. Activism allows teens to be part of something much larger than themselves, which can give them that critical sense of purpose and personal meaningfulness. It can also open them up to new experiences which help them discover their true purpose.
4. Activism looks good on college applications.
As proud as you are of your teen’s activism, perhaps you can’t help but wonder if their time might be better spent elsewhere — like getting into their dream school, for instance. Turns out, your teen’s activism can help them get into college. In addition to strong academic credentials, college admissions officers often look at an applicant’s extracurricular activities. And yes, activism counts as an extracurricular! If your teen doesn’t have a cause that they’re interested in, check out this list of volunteer ideas for teens to get started.
5. It helps develop their soft skills.
Employers are seeking job applicants who have a wide range of well-developed soft skills, such as critical thinking and communication. Activism provides the perfect opportunity for your teen to develop these in-demand soft skills. Since most volunteer opportunities involve people, your teen will have plenty of chances to hone their communication skills. They’ll also learn other valuable skills that can help them in a future job search, such as how to work with different personalities and how to better manage their time.
6. It can lead to a fulfilling career.
“Find your passion.” Teenagers hear this constantly, especially in the context of their future careers. You know what’s great for helping teens foster their passions? That’s right — activism. Activism turns teenagers into engaged citizens who feel strongly about a particular cause. And who knows? They could potentially make valuable connections through activism and gain valuable skills that lead to a rewarding career.
7. Activism encourages teens to think for themselves.
Almost all activists run into opposition eventually. When your teen meets counter-protesters or people who disagree with their stance, their ideas will inevitably be challenged. This is a good thing! Not only does it give your teen the chance to hone their debate skills (which is key to civic engagement), it also challenges them to think about something from a different angle. When your teen encounters different opinions, it can help broaden their world view and gain a greater perspective.
Letting Your Teen’s Voice Be Heard (Safely)
Young teen activists are smarter and more innovative than many adults give them credit for. They can be a driving force for change in our society by bringing up big ideas and contributing to the discussion. And as you can see, there are plenty of reasons why activism can be good for your teen!
That being said, it’s also important to talk with your teen and have a discussion about their safety, even if it’s met with eyerolls. If they’re attending a mass protest, they should always go with someone they know. You should also make sure that your teen understands that they can call you at any time if they’re in trouble, even if you don’t necessarily agree with the stance they’re taking (especially if you don’t agree). By being a source of support and encouragement, your teen can exercise their First Amendment rights safely.