When you see the typical teenager represented in advertising or sitcoms they are usually depicted as monosyllabic, absorbed on their device or rolling their eyes at something their parent has said. The media and wider popular culture are responsible for perpetuating an image of youth as apathetic, self-consumed and shallow.
While in any population there are individuals who will conform to a dominant stereotype, my experiences with young people present a character type that is vastly different from what I have described above.
Every day I encounter students who are motivated, politically active and deeply invested in consciously unpacking the world that they live in.
At our school we strive to create opportunities to foster our students’ emerging leadership skills and to ensure that we are contributing to creation of the next generation of change-makers who will alter our world for the better.
Our Year 5s are all student leaders who operate in various portfolios designed to improve the School’s activities, community and social justice offerings.
Across Yrs 6-11 our Student Representative Council members take the opportunity to represent their year levels, implement activities and advocate for their peers in relation to school policies and programs.
Our Hanhagah, student leadership committee, are the School’s elected student leadership team. They help drive the School’s positive culture, run school assemblies participate and lead programming for Jewish life activites and other major school events.
While there are ample opportunities to develop these skills within the school setting, many of our students also attend one of the Jewish youth movements where the stereotype of the apathetic teenager is turned on its head.
Nowhere will you find more engaged, passionate and purposeful leaders than those who are being nurtured in the youth movements. The intense debates around a nuance of a movement’s ideology, the formal training in role modelling and ethical leadership and the intoxicating ruach (spirit) all contribute to development of a world view whereby alumni feel that it is natural to actively contribute to important causes.
As a personal example I track my own development as a leader, and an engaged participant in the Jewish life of our community, back to my time as a member of Habonim Dror. It was at Habo that I learnt to critically evaluate the world that I live in, to strive to meaningfully contribute to social justice causes and to find an avenue to meaningfully express my Jewish identity.
In a few weeks’ time, Netzer will celebrate its 40th anniversary. I have been discussing with many of my nostalgic Netzer friends who had parallel experiences to mine, what a dramatic and positive influence their time in the movement has had on their lives.
Indeed, when I look at the work that is being undertaken by alumni of the various youth movements, it is clear that there is a direct relationship between the particular model of youth empowerment fostered in the movements with a lifelong yearning to contribute positively to the community.
Our community is blessed to have many graduates of the movements in leadership roles giving back to the next generations. I truly believe that some of my greatest educational and Jewish experiences and my most lasting life lessons came through being taken so seriously as a teenager in my youth movement.
I know that when youth are given the agency to lead and develop other youth in an environment that is consciously joyous, inclusive and fun, amazing things can happen.
With this in mind I encourage parents to sign their children up for one of the youth movements’ upcoming summer camps. They present fantastic opportunities to develop friendships, consider big issues, to develop as leaders and to deepen Jewish identity in ways that will likely have a tremendous impact on them in the future.