If you ask teenagers about being connected to the world, they will doubtless reach for their cell phones. Our kids are connected to each other and the world-at-large more than any generation before via social media. They are also, possibly, more isolated by the very same phenomenon more than any generation in the past. While they may have literally hundreds or thousands of “friends”, the phone can keep them sitting alone, staring at a glowing screen.
If you ask employers about how our kids do when learning a new job, you are likely to hear some sad reports…of kids standing with their hands in their pockets, or staring at their phones when they should be learning/doing/engaging. The internet is allowing kids to connect in one way, but for many it is leading to this disconnect in another. This was mentioned in a recent seminar on Apprenticeships as a reason that college grads are landing most apprenticeships (not having studied something that led to an actual job, they are turning to career schools to get a job that will pay the bills and their student loans). It is tougher for new high school grads to land those apprenticeships in part due to this disconnect between the expectations of tradesmen and what kids think is okay. Hands in pockets, or holding a phone, is NOT okay.
Hanging out in my high school career center, I feel like I am a Mom to all of those kids, and I want very much for them to find jobs that will pay their rent and bring them a sense of pride in their work. I have realized that there is one huge “secret” that our young adults need to learn, and I saw it stated brilliantly on a bumper sticker: The World Is Run By The People Who Show Up.
The people who show up make the rules, elect the politicians, get the jobs, win the scholarships, find true love. The important things that happen in our communities get done by people who get out of bed and show up. The wonderful people who run charities, ministries and outreach/help/support organizations do it with the help of those who show up. Most importantly, many of those kinds of organizations could not function at all if volunteers do not show up. Feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, reading to little kids at the library….so many places in each community to show up even if you are just a teenager with no appreciable skills. Willing hands and showing up are all that many require.
I want kids to get the very most out of their time in high school, asking them to be in clubs, play sports, hold offices and have the fun that only happens during this one season of life. All of those things are good. More importantly, I want kids to begin to engage their communities. Figure out what they like to do, what they care about, and what matters to them, personally. The reason? If they are volunteering for a cause that they care about, I know they will show up. I also feel certain they will learn all about how great it is to be part of a team, able to experience the joy and pride that come with doing a job well. They may find that caring about meeting a need leads them to a career path that also helps with meeting that same need. When you are 16 or 17 and have no idea what you want to do as an adult, this can be a huge turning point.
From a selfish standpoint, volunteering leads to some of the very best letters of recommendation you can possibly get. Scholarships are awarded to folks who get those kinds of letters. Being awesome in Science or soccer does not compare to a glowing letter describing a student who faithfully SHOWED UP to work to make their community a better place. The kid who shows up twice might get a nice letter, but the kid who shows up every week or month for years…. that letter is worth having. That experience is priceless.
I cherish the chance for students to learn how to work in a community setting. They learn to interact comfortably with adults of all ages, and hopefully they learn to jump in and get to work rather than stand with hands-in-pockets. In a perfect world, each kid would get a summer job that would teach them many of these same skills, and I am all in favor…but living out in the country, I know many kids who would love a job, but don’t have a means of transportation. It simply isn’t an option until they can drive and even then, it will only work if they have access to a car. My area is rural and impoverished, and the hurdles to higher education are many.
So, I ask them to find a way to volunteer. I talk with parents about the many benefits of helping their kids get those opportunities. Lets face it: running our kids from school to sports to dances to jobs or volunteering is work for the person doing the driving. It costs money, time and effort. It is also very worth it. If scholarships are going to play a role in paying for career training or college, it is VERY worth it. Even if a student does not win a single scholarship, the time spent helping at a food bank or animal shelter or library or Habitat for Humanity will teach them lessons that they will use for the rest of their lives.
The World Is Run By The People Who Show Up.
Be that person.
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