IDG: Adults, take a seat

I wrote this post last week before the devastating war in the Gaza Strip and Israel began. Yesterday, was International Day of the Girl, a day meant to celebrate youth and simultaneously highlight concerns within girlhood, but it was all marred by an even greater worldwide tragedy: another war. 

I will share the original post, as it is relevant every day of the year and yet, I recognize that our compassion and empathy as humans are limited, and perhaps instead we should petition to move this year’s IDG to later in the year… as they say in Spanish: Soñar no cuesta nada.

Girl Up’s Teen Advisory team ♥️ All photos are published with consent .

This one goes out to the girls. Our outspoken, ground-shaking, society-changing girls, who continuously inspire me to make this world a little bit better for others. Every year on October 11th, *mark your calendars* the world celebrates The International Day of the Girl Child. The day of observance was officially recognized in 2011 after a resolution was passed by the UN, and although the resolution process wasn’t as smooth and inclusive as youth were expecting, it’s important to note that it was a huge step forward for our society to acknowledge girlhood.

A youth had left her camera back home and I lend her my point and shoot.

We as adults think we know it all. Adults are all-knowing about the climate crisis (but make little effort to declare the issue a worldwide emergency), we’re well versed in the intersectionalities of the gender-diverse community, but continue to misunderstand the difference between gender and sexuality, and most of all, we’re experts in women and girls rights, and yet, an impressively large swath of the population that holds power is quick to strip away educational, reproductive, and human rights from marginalized populations. We’re adults! We know what’s best.

But what if we don’t? What if instead of silencing our clever, loud girls… we listen? What if we took the time to engage in a meaningful conversation with them, one in which we recognize that our seemingly impulsive choices are creating a less livable future? What if we understood that their pleas stem from a deep fear that the world we know today, will be rife with uncontrollable suffering and massive migrations? What if we, the adults stepped off our podiums, took a seat, and just listened to the urgency youth share in wanting to make our world more equitable and united? Our girls are our future’s greatest advocates, they live and breathe this overwhelming atmosphere of mental health crises, epidemics, and violence. Our youth are living in an unprecedented period in human history, with access to information at the simplest touch of their fingertips. They’re connected to their peers instantly, whether they’re nearby, or on the other side of the world, it makes no difference.

Let’s learn from them what their most pressing issues are, and apply thoughtful youth engagement strategies full of empathy, compassion, inclusivity, and diversity of thought. Putting youth at the forefront of decision-making platforms is a learned behavior that not all adults are exposed to and frankly, should be. 

Tiny story time: 

A couple of years ago, I was a fellow at a small but mighty non-profit in Philadelphia, centered around girls’ leadership. With limited resources, we developed curricula, ran hybrid sessions, and provided skill-building workshops for local youth, while always looking for collaborative opportunities and funding prospects to support our cause. The immense determination of my team and their clear vision of providing youth with the right tools was admirable and contagious. The work was never-ending and exciting, every day was different and packed with circumstances to tackle creatively. But the bad days were gut-wrenching as decisions that were made statewide and even nationally heavily demoralized the team and made me feel hopeless. It was in those days I painfully came to the realization that my frontline activist streak had been snuffed out. Those strenuous years between 2020-2022 had chipped away at my mental, physical, and spiritual health, and with a lot of shame and disappointment, I hung my hat and recognized I was not cut out for front-row activism. I now understand that I’m not a failure, and can continue advocating for the topics I’m most passionate about, but rather than being the face of change, I can provide tools to those who have the capacity and energy to go out and fight. 

The youth.

I continue to work in community and youth engagement—now on a global scale where challenges feel heavier than they would for the average person. In my younger days I wouldn’t have been able to compete with the energy, passion, and intelligence youth have today. The girls today are quick, well-informed, and most importantly, ready to make a change. They’re a big reason why I remain hopeful for humanity and when a win is to be celebrated, I, jokingly but always with a sliver of truth, say “for the girls!”  

So, what’s my call to action? Adults, LISTEN UP. If you’re an adult reading this, especially if you work closely with youth, the first step to creating everlasting engagement and positive relationships is to exercise patience, be an attentive listener, share the microphone, and maintain an open mindset. Remember, youth possess their own wisdom and can be quite adept with modern tools. And if you’re looking for resources on how to support or educate yourself on youth engagement, check these out: 

By youth, for adults: 

If you’re an adult looking for engagement for your youth: 

And don’t forget, happy IDG!

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