Our current world is nowhere near perfect. Racism plagues our towns and cities. The coronavirus has killed nearly 200,000 Americans and yet is under control in most other first world countries. Each year, our environment continues to warm, resulting in an increasing amount of catastrophic fires, floods, hurricanes, and other deadly natural disasters.
Many of these issues can be solved through strong government action and social movements.
Unfortunately, teenagers are often disenfranchised from the world of politics and government because we can’t vote, and our thoughts and opinions are often brushed off due to our age. However, although we can’t directly vote, there are many steps minors can take to create the change we want to see in our society.
Firstly, we can raise awareness by exposing others to our cause. Awareness is the first step towards change. As the old saying goes, “Out of sight, out of mind.” Most humans are naturally caring and empathetic. Most humans are ignorant as well. There is no way we can know about every troubling issue in the world. Thus, simply explaining your cause to others can encourage uninformed minds to care and possibly want to do something.
By talking to your family and friends about issues you’re passionate about, you can easily bring attention to your cause. As people who care about you and your perspectives, your social circle is your best bet if you want to start raising awareness on a smaller scale.
Social media is also an incredible platform for sharing information. Its accessibility and popularity among youth also make it a useful tool for young activists. You may share informative posts on Instagram or possibly create a Facebook page featuring updates on your cause. The aforementioned methods take little effort but still have the possibility to create big change when properly scaled. If you can reach and change the minds of just 20 people through social media, then those 20 people will also be able to affect change within their own social circles and communities. As more and more people read and share your post, more and more of your community will become informed on your cause at an exponential rate. As you can see, this can be very impactful.
You can also make your voice heard by writing a “Letter-to-the-Editor” to your local newspaper or even just your high school newspaper. Despite what you may think, newspapers still have a large audience. So, by clearly and effectively communicating in your letter, you will be able to inform others and possibly convince them to join in on your cause.
Contacting elected officials are also great ways of bringing attention to a certain topic. Elected officials want to stay in office, so they typically want to listen to their stakeholders’ needs and opinions. Even though you do not directly vote for them, most elected officials have an email address, a phone number, or a P.O. box you can send letters to.
You may also choose to send in (or personally state, once COVID restrictions are lifted) public comments to your local city council’s meetings or your school’s governing board meetings. Public comments can be especially effective, as they reach a wider audience and put direct pressure on officials.
Raising awareness can also take the form of organizing a protest or creating petitions. High school student-run protests are not as common, but with enough dedication and hard work they can be very effective. For example, after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, a student-led national walkout pushed the gun control debate to a national stage and led to many policy reforms. In contrast, petitions have now become very easy to create, with many online platforms providing free methods to create, distribute, and sign petitions. Creating petitions allows you to further encourage others to join your cause, as they can be very informative.
To take it a step further from just raising awareness, you can enact change by donating your time or money to an organization that supports your cause. Although some organizations have an age restriction on who can volunteer with them, many larger organizations encourage youth to get involved with their cause. With smaller organizations, you may be able to sneak your way past the age limit by calling up the group and demonstrating your maturity and passion for the subject.
Activist organizations (referred to as non-governmental organizations, or NGO’s) may also offer internships. All it takes is an email or phone call to reach out.
If the NGO you want to help out does not offer opportunities for young people, you can always consider fundraising for the organization. GoFundMe, Bonfire, and Do Good are feasible options. You can always ask your friends and family to donate as well. Many students have also set up small businesses and donate a portion of their profits to a specific charity or NGO.
Finally, one of the most important methods teens can use to positively impact their community is education. Yes, this involves school. By gaining a basic education, we develop the tools necessary for being responsible and intelligent citizens who will choose the best for their communities. For example, English and History teach us how to read and think critically as well as effectively communicate our ideas.
However, education also involves staying up to date with current events and understanding how our government and society works. You won’t be a teen forever. In fact, most of us will gain the right to vote in a few years. So, once you do vote, you want to understand what you’re voting for and how it will affect your community. Civics and political education can also be procured by joining youth organizations such as Speech and Debate, Youth and Government, and the Junior State of America. These youth organizations are also great ways to network with fellow teenage activists and possibly create lifelong political connections in your community. It is also a great idea to continue reading the news and exploring different political views through editorials and Op-Eds.
So there you have it. I’ve detailed a few ways on how to be the change you want to see within your community.
Even though we are young, we do not have to be silent and complicit. Go out there and change the world!