Last weekend I attended 4-H leader training. I was hesitant to really jump in because, obviously, with four kids, homeschooling and all that fun stuff, I don’t have enough to do.
But having finally articulated some good reasons to invest in young people, I decided this was a natural next step in living that conviction.
I didn’t really expect surprises, but I walked away from that training feeling renewed in my conviction that this is a program worth pursuing. 4-H, I learned, is all about PYD — Positive Youth Development. I thought for years that it was about showing animals at the fair, but 4-H isn’t about animals and it isn’t even about projects.
It’s about developing youth into socially coherent adults — people who care about the people around them, who are confident, problem-solving and enthusiastic about life.
I was my normal sass-mouth self at the training, and I cracked jokes to keep things interesting and memorable (for me or others, nobody knows). But for all that, I did pay attention, especially when we got to one of the most potent sections in the training: a TED talk in which psychologist Peter Benson — CEO/President of Search Institute who pioneered new research techniques to learn about youth development — explains what he’s learned.
Teens are usually the most in touch with what sparks in them, what inspires them, what delights them about themselves. Younger kids often haven’t had as much experience in life to know what those sparks are, and by the time we hit adulthood, some of our sparks have weathered too many storms to be articulated anymore. But most teens can identify and even verbalize what sparks them, and that knowledge is incredibly powerful if there is someone to hear it, affirm it and invest in it.
I’ve already talked about how I’ve learned about this calling in my life, and after this video I felt like someone had given me the magic key to reaching young hearts. Young adults have a lot of changes to deal with and few manage it gracefully.
Frankly, I’ve found them intimidating since I was in college and someone gave smartphones to this unique demographic of hormonal kaleidoscopes. I don’t know how to speak to that or muscle my way into their confidence.
But the answer was always here, it just wasn’t obvious to me: I don’t have to change the world. I have to hear the heart of another person.
The first practice I’ve adopted since discerning this calling is to start looking them in the eye. Babies respond to this. Kids, teens and adults respond to it. We want to be seen because we want to be known.
Whether I “get” them or not, I can give the young people in my life a special gift by just seeing them, hearing them and showing them respect. For me, that means asking questions, showing interest in their answers and treating them like they are important.
We talk a lot about that in my family, because we want the children to realize that how they treat someone leaves a trail. People remember how you make them feel.
When I look at how many people in my life need this and how limited I am, I’m overwhelmed. But even if it’s just one teen who feels heard and seen by me, there will be a radiating effect throughout the community because people who feel seen and heard learn that they have value and something unique to offer. And they want to offer something because they see that’s how community works.
I can do that through 4-H. I can also do that through my homeschool co-op, my church, my other community activities and my extended family (hello, upcoming holidays). I already knew that mentorship, in some form or other, is what sparks me. To invest my knowledge, insight, experience, wisdom and love into someone who needs it, that’s what delights me about me.
The ripple starts here as I drop my pebble into the pond. I hope to drop so many pebbles it looks like rain, but for now I start with one. It will require sacrifice — something I’ll write about soon — but I have to ask myself: what else am I here for?