Mentoring Adolescents on Power Development and Expression–Part Two

Welcome back! We are going to continue our discussion on the value of opposition in adolescence by turning to power development, assertion, and expression.

I propose that, due to our current political environment, there is a need to have all hands on deck when it comes to the good fight, which includes adolescents.  The good fight is the fight for civil rights, women’s rights, immigration rights, LGBTQ rights, and environmental and economic rights.

Now, over time, adolescents have been accused of not fully understanding the adult world and of being irresponsible, self absorbed, and reckless. Adolescents have not been taken seriously. Since my first blog post, I have challenged this image of the adolescent. There are adolescents who get it, and who make worthwhile contributions to their families and communities on their own behalf and on behalf of others. These adolescents have been mentored, taught skills, and supported with opportunities and role models who empower them–interventions on the relational level.

Isabella Barbuto, now a senior in high school, captured these ideas on her journal page from 2015, when she was just a sophomore in high school.  Isabella writes about how “teenagers are not taken seriously,” “held hostage to the assumption that teenagers don’t understand,” and thought to be too immature and irresponsible. She makes the claim that teenagers are capable—“they will run the world in the future” and “the risky behaviors some may engage in are not necessarily a bad thing”. Isabella goes on to say how “parents play a role in how teenagers see society” and “just because they are young doesn’t mean they aren’t interested and creating change.”

John Russon argues “the family is the bestower of meaning” and determines a child’s “can and cannot” ability.

Russon’s idea of the “can and cannot” ability should be understood in terms of human and personal agency–“The sense of agency (SA) (or sense of control) refers to the subjective awareness that one is initiating, executing, and controlling one’s own volitional actions in the world. It is the pre-reflective awareness or implicit sense that it is I who is executing bodily movement(s) or thinking thoughts.”

Russon argues that the family  influences the child and adolescent in developing a strong or weak sense of agency. They create and pass on “behavioral narratives” full of habits and ways of being in environments, with self and with others which support or suppress the can or cannot ability and reinforce the identity and “meshing with the narrative to the child” created in the family context.

Having said that, I want to call to action every adult with an adolescent in their life to reflect on how they assert and express their power and how they help the adolescent understand and assert his or her personal and social power. Again, we need all hands on deck in our current political environment.

On January 21, 2017, the Women’s March brought, hundreds of thousands of women, men, and youth united across the globe to march and to send a message to the 45th President of the United States, Donald Trump.

“The rhetoric of the past election cycle has insulted, demonized, and threatened many of us – immigrants of all statuses, Muslims and those of diverse religious faiths, people who identify as LGBTQIA, Native people, Black and Brown people, people with disabilities, survivors of sexual assault – and our communities are hurting and scared. We are confronted with the question of how to move forward in the face of national and international concern and fear.”


Adolescents have had a front row seat to the commercials, speeches, voting and election of our 45th President.  They have witnessed and participated in the conversations around the family table and shared their opinions on social media.  They have also witnessed the threats, violence, hatred  and divisiveness among adults and their peers. There are reports that there has been a rise in incivility and bullying.

There is no better time for this discussion on opposition  as advocacy and for teaching adolescents constructive ways to make their voices heard, to challenge and resist unfair policies and laws and to use their power as an active change agent.

Listed below are some resources that parents and adults can utilize to have informed discussions with the adolescents in their life on what is happening around them politically and how to contribute in meaningful ways in their communities, including using opposition to advocate.  Now is a good time and a great opportunity to teach constructive ways to utilize one’s personal agency and social power.

 1. Civics and Power Literary

 Eric Liu is an author, educator and civic entrepreneur who I introduced in my previous post on podcasting. I recommend that you check out my previous post and access the link to Liu’s TED Talk, where he lays out nicely his ideas on civics, how power governs any government, and becoming power literate. He gives some great strategies to utilize. Also visit his website, Citizen University, for more resources, including videos and curriculum.

2. Understanding grassroots movements  

Sara Poggi’s political engagement activity defines grassroots movements and gives basic information about engaging in grassroots activities.

Lasse Berntzen, Marius Rohde-Johannessen, and James Godbolt’s essay, “Understanding Internet Use in Grassroots Campaigns: Internet and Social Movement Theory,” has a comprehensive reference section that you can consult to increase your knowledge and inform your discussions with your adolescent.

3.  Talking to Children and Adolescents about Politics

An article posted on CNN in 2016 during the US presidential campaign gives some good tips that are still relevant and that you can use to discuss our current political climate with your children and adolescents. There is also a video where children share their thoughts and reactions to Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump’s behaviors and attitudes towards one another throughout the campaign. This is important to revisit with adolescents because what was said on the campaign trail is what got Trump elected.

4.  Engaging Youth in Advocacy

According to the Women’s March on Washington (WMW), WMW Youth Ambassador program, they target “the activism, interests and unique perspectives of our child and teenage populations. We aim to provide a platform of civic engagement where our youth can make their voices heard.”

Please check out the resources. If you have not visited Part One of this discussion on power development, assertion, and expression in adolescence, please click the link above or scroll down to the previous post.

I look forward to hearing from you.

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