Why Today’s Teens Have Trouble Changing their World for the Better

I’m disgusted.  I’m tired of adults—especially teachers and administrators in the education system—who trash-talk today’s teens and say they’re all lazy, don’t want to work for anything, don’t care about anyone but themselves,  and never lend a hand to help those less fortunate.  It’s not the kids who are a problem.

You see, I’m raising young activists.  Or trying to.   My daughters, both students at Niceville High School,  decided  last month to try to make a difference in the world and ran into a brick wall with the very people who are constantly preaching that kids need to learn to volunteer their time and resources to help others and be good citizens of the world.

Their dilemma started about a month ago, right after we’d returned from the Florida Pagan Gathering in Altoona where Aislinn, 15,  spent most of her time volunteering for the Church of Iron Oak and Shannon, just turned 18, spent her time soaking up various spiritual cultures while studying for college exams.  I took the girls out to dinner when we returned and Shannon sat across from me, fretting about the recent devastating cyclone in Myanmar (Burma).

“Are we really that different from other families?” she asked me.  And yes, I’m paraphrasing a little.  “Other people sit at dinner and talk about their soccer game or TV, but we  sit here talking about history, philosophy, current events, and other cultures.  How many people are really aware of what’s going on in the rest of the world?  I want to DO SOMETHING to help.”

She decided right then to DO SOMETHING to make a difference.  She wanted to raise money for the Myanmar victims.  Not that other causes weren’t worthy, but something about the Myanmar peoples’ predicament really touched her and she committed—on the spot—to raising money for charity.  For them.  For people she’d never met and likely never will. There were plenty of things to fret about to make sure she did it “right,” but as it turned out, those were the easy things.

She wanted, specifically, to raise awareness among her peers.  She’s also savvy enough to know that most teens won’t make a contribution to something simply as  a fundraiser, but hey, throw in a cool shirt, and you’ve got a deal.  Adults like to get tax deductions and an approving nod from the boss, but teens like trendy shirts.  Because tie-dye is quite fashionable at the moment, she decided to dedicate almost all of her spare time—about three weeks before her summer job schedule—to tie-dying the shirts herself and about a month’s salary in her savings account to buy the shirts at wholesale plus any paint supplies.

It was never meant to be a million-dollar fundraiser.  She planned it so she would raise a few thousand dollars for charity and at the same time, show others how easy it is to get involved and make a difference, even on a small scale.  If she could raise a few thousand to help others, then maybe, she thought, such an act would inspire others to raise a few thousand to help lift up others in the world and end some small part of the suffering on our planet.  

She worried about the Myanmar government not letting aid through, but kept up with the news many times a day until she saw the aid starting to go through via international organizations instead of American aid.  She worried probably too much about all the problems that might come with an extremely successful fundraiser.  What if she had so many orders from the kids at school that she couldn’t keep up with production after she started working full-time again?  What if there were too many people who wanted to  help and our garage was too small?  It didn’t happen that way  though.

That night after dinner, she went home and researched T-shirt prices, delivery times, etc.  Basically all her market research before midnight and ordered the T-shirts that night with plans to use her own birthday gift cards to buy for the art supplies.  At school the next day, she began talking up her charity project with all the excitement of young apostle.  One high school teacher was supportive of her ideas, but most of the other adults were not.  Not only did they not show support, but they openly told her why it was a bad idea, why it would never work, why the Myanmar government would confiscate anything they sent so why bother—even though the news was already reporting that international aid was getting through.  She tried to stay upbeat, but when she came home that night, I could tell she was discouraged by the reception the faculty/administration had given her idea, even though she was already putting her personal money and time into making something happen.

Over the next few days, she gathered old and new friends and they tie-dyed high-quality white T-shirts until their hands were purple.  She pitched the idea to her peers and they loved it!  These weren’t logo-imprinted, no-effort T-shirts but each-one-is-unique masterpieces with lots of personal energy put into creating them instead of doing things that teens are renowned for doing, like–you know–hanging out in seedy places and doing drugs.  For me, it was a blast to watch all these teens having fun, being creative, and feeling positive about doing something good for others.

Orders from classmates were rising fast, so Shannon asked the high school administration if she might announce her charity to the school.  The answer?  NO.  No, because if we let you announce your charity fundraiser, other people will want to announce their charity fundraisers.

Huh?  And this is a bad thing to have kids excited about making a better world?

Still trying not to be discouraged, Shannon realized at that point that she would get no help at all from her high school’s administration or faculty, with the exception of one supportive teacher who would allow them to keep some shirts unobtrusively in the back of her room.   It was up to the kids.  Word of mouth began to spread.  That’s when Aislinn stepped in, advertising the shirts on MySpace, Facebook, and through her freshman friends.  Aislinn has a wonderful personality for sales, by the way, and she was selling shirts between classes, after school, and on the bus.  Within a few days, they’d sold enough T-shirts to cover the wholesale costs of the shirts and shipping.  Shannon took her “senior walk” at her high school and saw lots of students wearing shirts they’d bought for the Myanmar cyclone charity.  Momentum was building fast and the shirts were selling very, very well.

That’s when a faculty member informed Aislinn that she couldn’t support Aislinn in any way at Niceville High School because “someone complained” about the charity project and if Aislinn sold any more shirts for charity on school grounds, the money would be confiscated and she’d lose it.  And no, the shirt sales didn’t interfere with classes, studying, or the primary purpose of school.  Suddenly though, the charity project was against the rules.

My girls were stunned, hurt, and angry–and dumbfounded at the obstacles.  They are continuing to sell the shirts online through several sources and continuing to raise both money and awareness, and this weekend, Shannon writes the first check to an international aid organization as planned.  Their project to raise awareness raised some awareness in them that I worry about and perhaps left them a little jaded.

Me, I’m disgusted.  I thought it was such a great idea (and teaching mechanism) that two teens would band together to raise a few thousand dollars to help end the suffering of strangers and show that it doesn’t take a big effort to make a difference, even on a small scale.  Or maybe I should say that it doesn’t have to take a big effort to make a difference.

So don’t tell me that today’s kids don’t care about the world and aren’t interested in making a difference.  They do and they are, but they have to figure out a way around the system to make it a better world.  

For more info on the Aware of Your World project, click here.

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