Is National Youth Week What Youth Really Need?
It is National Youth Week, a week that is designated to celebrate youth and their participation in their communities. Since 2007, the first week of May has been identified as a time to honour the involvement of youth and the important contributions they make to the communities they live in. It is a chance for organizations to “host events and support the principles of intentional youth development that National Youth Week stands for.”
Many communities host special events to showcase the abilities and contributions of youth, for example through art displays and film festivals in Toronto. Other communities honour National Youth Week by creating opportunities for better connecting and listening to their youth, for example, inviting them to tell the Mayor how to improve programs and services in Hamilton.
And our youth are worth celebrating—many are finding powerful and creative ways to make a difference, like these 7 young Canadians highlighted by Kid’s Help Phone for their contributions in areas of emotional and mental health last year.
While designating a National Youth Week can bring attention to the contributions and needs of teens, I’m not sure it actually makes a difference to the lives of the average teen in the families I know. In fact, in a poll of randomly selected teens in my household, 0% have even heard of National Youth Week, never mind participated in an event or celebration related to it.
Sometimes these types of annual grand gestures can leave adults or politicians feeling like they’ve done something for youth, while actually making little difference in the daily lives of most teens in their communities. The City of Hamilton seems to be taking it further through its Youth Strategy, a plan to promote youth involvement and enhance services for youth in a project that is being rolled out over 2018 and beyond.
But what do youth need, beyond an annual week of celebration and special events? And aside from organizational programming, what can parents, teachers, neighbours, grandparents and friends do in order to support “intentional youth development”? What makes the difference for the majority of youth in many communities across the country?
It is with eager anticipation that I noticed the first tinge of green appearing on the grass, along with the yellowish hues on the willow trees. These glimpses of colour signal that something is happening. This is a season of anticipation, of renewal, of watching things come back to life. Spring speaks of the gift of life and discovery. It speaks of wonder.
I learned a valuable life lesson about wonder and curiosity a number of years back. My teacher, a two-year-old. Before becoming a parent, I had the opportunity to look after a friend’s little daughter. When we set out for a stroll I had no idea that we would spend well over an hour walking around a small city block.
We noticed bugs, we poked in the cracks, we stopped and sat on the sidewalk and spent an interminable amount of time simply throwing the remnants of winter gravel onto the road, enjoying the sounds it made. With eyes sparkling and giggles erupting, this little two year old girl taught me a valuable lesson that day. She taught me to slow down, to discover and to marvel, to see the world differently, to see it through wonder-filled eyes.
Elizabeth Gilbert in her book, Big Magic, articulates how this need for wonder fuels and fills our souls. She writes, “At such times, I can always steady my life once more by returning to my soul. I ask it, ‘And what is it that you want, dear one?’ The answer is always the same: ‘More wonder, please.’ As long as I’m still moving in that direction – toward wonder – then I will always be fine in my soul.” (p. 250)
It seems we are designed for wonder. When we are in a state of wonder, curiously exploring, we are in an open and engaged posture.