I remember working with a group of youth a few years ago who had been given a school assignment to write their obituary. How morbid! I remember saying to myself, “Why would you ask teens to think about their deaths instead of their lives”. Young people surrounded by crime, poverty, and disappointment don’t need to be prompted to think about their mortality. We want to get them out of “survival mode” and help them thrive.
Negative motivation is good when you’re teaching a toddler not to touch a hot stove. It doesn’t always work with teens, however. We want to use positive motivations based on reward and acceptance. Instead of trying to convince youth to behave a certain way out of fear of guilt, pain or punishment, we can introduce them to attractive alternatives that make doing the right thing worthwhile. For example, I can warn a teen not to drop out of high school because they will end up poor and jobless but I would rather show them that by staying in school and graduating they can get a good paying job and buy the car that they want.
Youth empowerment principles focus on the positive. Positive youth development is built on a hope that change is possible. It’s time to think differently and ask different questions. Let’s offer young people a reason to do what’s best for them. Setting goals helps you stretch beyond your comfort zone to become the person you want to be. A life list is better than a bucket list because a life list helps youth discover reasons to live.
Here are five questions you can ask your youth to get their life list started:
1. What new hobby do you want to engage in?
2. Which 3 states do you want to travel to?
3. What country would you like to visit?
4. What would you do if you knew that you couldn’t fail?
5. How do you want to spend your 65th birthday?
You might also want to read: Show You Care Before They Exit Foster Care
Nicki Sanders, MSW, Chief Visionary Officer
The Teen Toolbox utilizes youth portfolio development and civic engagement and academic empowerment strategies to help teens set goals for life after high school and create a road map to reach those goals through its PACKAGED FOR SUCCESS™ Programs. We are committed to supporting and raising awareness about the needs and potential of teenagers in the foster care system.
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