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Youth Ditch Stress through Activism

March 27, 2019

As a 15-year-old activist, Greta Thunberg rocked the global stage at the United Nations plenary in Katowice, Poland. Her message was simple: “You only talk about moving forward with the same bad ideas that got us into this mess. Even when the only sensible thing to do is pull the emergency brake, you are not mature enough to tell it like it is. Even that burden you leave to us children.” Greta was speaking about climate change just as youth throughout Europe were walking out of classrooms to demand climate change action by global leaders.

Issues such as climate change and gun violence have heightened youth stress and prompted brave civic protest. What adults once took as a given – being safe at school and existing on a livable planet – are now at risk. The looming threats have had a significant impact on kids. According to a recent study by the Pew Research Center, 96 percent of teens felt that anxiety and depression were a problem (70 percent felt it was a major problem). They topped the list of problems, which included bullying, drug addiction, alcohol consumption, poverty, teen pregnancy and gangs. While policy and politics prompt adults to flock to the polls, youth too young to vote found a place for their voices through collective action. They used their numbers, actions and arguments to force these issues to the headlines and the forefront of legislative agendas.

So how does activism really make a difference for youth? Well, there’s no doubt that being subject to many world pressures combined with abuse, neglect, and other tragic experiences – also known as adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) – can present real struggles for kids. And activism can have a positive effect on mental health and self esteem for a number of reasons.

  • Action Sparks Hope – By shifting both your view and your experience from what is happening to you to what you can do about it, you move from passive to active. Doing something positive with how you feel – like advocating for positive change – will bring about an inherent hope and a more optimistic view of the future.
  • Strength in Numbers – Most life challenges are easier to manage with the support of others, especially in situations that are heavy, depressing or complicated. In collective activism, teens are able to connect with other passionate, like-minded peers with whom they can work to have big picture impact. The mere action of working and connecting with others works to counter the depression and lowered self-esteem that may result from isolation.
  • Results Affirm Action – When one school experiences a walk out, it usually doesn’t become national news, but when hundreds of schools experience this, it is international news. The large-scale and coordinated action not only raises attention, it also stimulates real action by leaders who can change rules and laws. With every success, youth feel an affirmation that their hard work has paid off, their voices matter and they are making a difference!

As climate change concerns demand action and social change, youth need to be empowered to lead with their passion, conviction and unhampered will. When given the space to take bold action, they not only preserve their right to a healthy future, they also build skills to support resilience.

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