How to inspire a teenager

Jun 14, 2011


Girl in Bridge 

photo credit: shanon wise photo licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

By: Abby James


When I was 16 years old, my soccer coach asked me to serve as a team captain. I was shocked. I was far from the best or most experienced player on the team. I wasn’t loud and demanding. I wasn’t a“take charge” kind of player. She told me it was because my work ethic and dedication served as an example for the rest of the team. What an amazing, empowering lesson that was. And it still guides my life today—a leader doesn’t have to be the strongest, fastest or loudest. In small actions, I can make a difference. By supporting and encouraging others, I can be a leader.


Do you remember being inspired? Where were you? Who was with you? What lit the fire that turned into your lifelong passion? If you’re like me, I was inspired by experiences that I had as a young adult. Without these life shaping moments I wouldn’t be who I am today.  

As part of Kiwanis’ Key Leader staff team, I understand this truth deeply. I count myself as extremely privileged. Why? Hundreds of times a year, I personally see teens being inspired by the same realizations that inspired me. So if you’re seeking to inspire a teen, here are some things that I’ve seen move others to become their best.

1. Remind your teen that they can change the world. This doesn’t have to mean solving world hunger or getting rid of poverty in every corner of the globe. It can mean helping an elementary school student learn how to read, showing compassion to a fellow student when others may not be so kind, leading the charge to collect toiletries for a local shelter. We always hear that teenagers are lazy and apathetic, but by showing them that changing the world begins by being of service to those closest to us, they realize they are empowered. This realization moves them to action. Through this action, they emerge as leaders.

2. Always be willing to give them a nudge Sometimes they just need a nudge in the right direction.  Kiwanis Key Leader is a spark that ignites the potential in our future leaders. It awakens in them the hope that they can make a difference in this crazy world. It gives them a direction, it gives them the skills and it gives them the inspiration they need to change their schools, their communities, and in turn, their world.

3. Life doesn’t happen in a vacuum, inspire groups.  At Key Leader, for three days and two nights, groups of teens learn together that leadership starts with helping others to become stronger and more independent. Students learn leadership skills alongside one another that will help them to change their schools, communities and world for the better. While exploring leadership in a whole new way, participants make amazing new friends, and have experiences they will never forget. Better yet, when life returns to normal, they have people in their circle of friends who know exactly how they feel.

Since 2005 more than 14,500 teens have graduated from Key Leader events in the United States, Canada, Grand Cayman, Brazil, El Salvador and Malaysia. For Key Leader locations and dates, stories from Key Leader graduates and registration information, visit www.key-leader.org, or find us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/keyleaders.       

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