“Kids these days.” Every generation has its own ideas about how young people are supposed to act – and how they are not supposed to act. When adults talk about “kids these days,” that phrase is often followed by negative opinions about youth and what they are doing wrong. In the field of substance use prevention, we focus a lot of energy on high school students drinking alcohol, vaping, trying marijuana, and experimenting with other drugs. There is good reason to focus
our energy here; we know young people are at risk for substance use addiction
However, it’s worth taking a moment to ask ourselves, how much energy do we focus on what young people are doing right? How often do we concentrate on everything they have to offer; their strength, resilience, courage, willingness to ask questions? How often do we talk about the 69% of high school aged youth in Massachusetts who choose not to drink alcohol1?
How do We Focus on Youth Positive Assets?
“Positive youth development” is an approach to working with young people that emphasizes their strength and resilience. Rather than using a “deficit model,” which focuses on what is wrong and needs to be “fixed,” positive youth development encourages us to focus on the assets that young people have to offer.
As caring adults, we can help build the assets of the young people in our lives – our children, our friends’ children, the young people in our community – by connecting with and being a role model for them. We can get to know them, listen deeply to them, and work with them to build relationships based on mutual trust. We can celebrate their successes. When we think about “kids these days,” we can finish that thought by naming all the great qualities that young people have.
The “Kids These Days” of this Era
When I think of “kids these days,” I am inspired and hopeful for our future. One example that really inspires me are the youth-led social movements that are currently happening across our country, where high school students are raising awareness about social issues. Young people have taken a leadership role in their communities to get people talking about issues, educate the public, influence policy, and work for a better future.
What are young people up to in your community? How well does your community support the efforts of young people to engage in the community? Read more about how supporting youth can transform your community.
- Youth.gov, “Positive Youth Development” webpage.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “Teen Substance Use and Risks” webpage. https://www.cdc.gov/features/teen-substance-use/index.html
- Massachusetts Department of Public Health,“Massachusetts Youth Health Survey” webpage. “Health & Risk Behaviors of Massachusetts Youth, 2017” PDF link. https://www.mass.gov/files/documents/2019/01/09/health-and-risk-behaviors-mass-youth-2017.pdf
- Essex County Asset Builder Network webpage, “Building Assets.” https://ecabnetwork.org/building-assets/
- KQED News, March 14, 2018. “Too Young to Vote, Old Enough to Act: A Brief History of Major Youth-Led Movements,” by Matthew Green. https://www.kqed.org/lowdown/30275/the-kids-are-all-right-a-timeline-of-youth-led-movements-that-changed-the-nation