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What if teenagers were a source of solutions?

3 teenagers smiling
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Why are teenagers important? Just look at all their energy and creativity! What if that energy was directed toward the real problems we all face?

For much of our history as a human race, we’ve needed our young people. Traditional societies have rites of passage, where an individual moves from childhood to adulthood. When this country was an agrarian society, everyone was needed to keep the farm running.

But somehow, in our modern world, we’ve chosen to sequester our teenagers in high schools and keep them separate from the life of society. Yes, the world is more complex and there’s more to learn. But why the isolation? Even college has, in some cases, become a prolongation of adolescence (think “party schools”).

There are plenty of serious students who learn well and go on to succeed. But walk into your average high school and what do you see? Bored, disengaged teenagers who feel like their time is being wasted.

What if we turned this picture on its ear? What if, instead of isolating teenagers in huge schools, we engage them instead?

Van Jones, in his Rebuild the Dream address to the 2013 Social Capital Markets (SOCAP) conference, offered a scheme—take 100,000 poor black kids, turn them into the best coders on earth and let them loose on the world. They are already creative, communicative and connected. But “we’re just leaving genius on the table.”

“If you did that, you’d make a tremendous difference in the world, but it also would expand the part of all of our brains that actually believes these kids are worth something…. You wait ’til you see their first apps. You wait ’til you see what kind of problems they try to solve.” ~ Van Jones

We tend to get in a rut and think, “That’s just the way it is.” We develop perceptions and ideas about what teenagers are and are not. But do we stop to consider that so much of this is the result of the structures we created for them? How well would you or I fare in today’s high schools?

It’s time to reinvent, rethink, re-imagine. And it’s time to do it together. What are teenagers capable of achieving? What if we decided to ask them?

Share your thoughts and ideas on your favorite social network with #ProsperousPlanet.

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