I witnessed something extraordinary last night when, just a few hours before boarding Turkish Airlines for our international trip, my team of teenagers gathered for dinner in the home of one of our organization’s senior leaders.
As we ate, we observed a tradition that has become one of our ICC culture’s defining moments for every team we commission: Prayer ‘n’ Share time. While we visit over dinner, each member shares something they are looking forward to and something they’d like prayer for. The sharing last night was so precious. Team members were both anxious and excited about the travel, foods, encountering new people, and cultural experiences.
Then the extraordinary happened. Without prompting, these teens began to affirm the leaders of their teams. They shared personal, vulnerable, and poignant affirmations with their leaders – alumni who had joined the team to guide them. These team leaders had coached and critiqued them. Supported and challenged them. Led them and loved them. And here our teenagers were, loving and leading them right back.
Today’s teens are not described as appreciative, or known for asking to be challenged, or expected to stretch to do hard things. Much research has described this demographic as anxious, tired, stressed, and averse to difficulty. And yet I watched these teenagers affirming their leaders without a mandate. Affirming the leaders who pushed them to do more, to be better. Extraordinary.
What happened next was even more extraordinary.
The two team leaders (both in their late teens themselves) stood and publicly affirmed each team member with life-giving words. They spoke truth, acceptance, love, and hope over their teammates. We laughed. We wiped tears – the overflow of feeling loved and accepted in a life-giving community.
As I watched, I knew why it was so easy for this team of teens to affirm their mentors. Their mentors had modeled the same encouraging, giving, caring behavior for them.
I talk with a lot of parents and teachers in my work. I listen as they bemoan their teen’s destructive behaviors. I share what’s possible. How I see teenagers – ordinary students – becoming extraordinary leaders every day.
Many parents embrace this idea, but few do the hard work to find or create life-giving community for their youth. We all need it. We are desperate for it. We were designed for community; our children were too. And they will find it, whether at school or on the other side of a screen. They yearn to belong.
We become like the people we spend the most time with, which is what fuels my passion for student mentoring and leadership.
Where do your students feel they belong? Who do your kids spend the most time with? Is that what you want them to become?
Dr. Teresa Moon, founding President and CEO of the Institute for Cultural Communicators, is an internationally-recognized seminar speaker, education consultant, author, and leadership coach. Each year, she travels globally equipping students, teachers, and parents to become “cultural communicators,” transforming ordinary students into extraordinary communicators and authentic leaders.