A Magical Approach To Supporting Teen Engagement

For the past five years, my daughter and I have gone to the Harry and the Potters Yule Ball at the Middle East in Cambridge, Mass. When we started going she was not quite a teen and now she’s a teen in full force. It’s an all-ages show, and a lot of the crowd are people in their teens (and some even younger).

If you’re not familiar with this particular event, let me start with a little background. Now in its 11th year, the Yule Ball is an annual party thrown by Harry and the Potters (the first wizard rock band) and featuring a bunch of other fandom-inspired bands: Draco and the Malfoys, The Whomping Willows, etc. It’s a relentlessly cheerful affair that is really positive and affirming. The music has gotten better over the years and it’s always a lot of fun.

One of the aspects of the event that’s very cool is its association with the Harry Potter Alliance. (I realize this is peppered with things that are probably alien to most people but, trust me, they’re cool and they matter.) The HPA has been around for 10 years and is dedicated to “making activism accessible through story.” While the group’s founder – Andrew Slack – was in his 20s when he started the HPA, many of its members are much younger. In fact, 73 of the chapter organizers are under the age of 22 and 30% are 17 or younger. 



This is an idealistic, enthusiastic and committed group of young people. One of the core values of the Harry Potter Alliance is the belief in un-ironic enthusiasm. That’s a pretty great way to look at and approach the world. But this isn’t simply a group of teens looking agog at the world through rose-colored glasses. They are also an example of how teens can come together around an ideal (even one based on fiction or fantasy) to make a difference.

Here are just a few of the things the HPA and its members have accomplished:

  • 400,000 fans helped convince Warner Brothers to change the sourcing of their Harry Potter chocolates to ensure it is 100% fair trade.
  • Raised more than $123,000 to send medical supplies to Haiti.
  • Collected and distributed more than a quarter of a million books for pop-up libraries around the world.

I’m probably too old now for un-ironic enthusiasm or to be free of cynicism but it encourages me and makes me happy to see how young people can mobilize to meld a movement based on their passions and ideals. 

Is a lot of what happens within the milieu of the Yule Ball and HPA goofy and silly? You know it is! But these things offer an important opportunity for like-minded people to reconnect, recharge and reaffirm the things that are important to them – and to carry what they share out into the wider world.

Is there an opportunity to become a part of this kind of movement or engage its members? Maybe, but only if it’s done with complete openness and genuine delight. That’s a tall order for many organizations and, frankly, most would probably make a mess of it and be detected as a meddling outsider in a minute.

Better to simply be open to engagement by these teens. Their desire to have a positive impact and make a difference is genuine. When they ask for help or share ideas they need to be supported and taken seriously. 

As I stood in the back of the crowd the other night talking to one of the other dads, I felt really good that my kid has decided that this is a community she wants to be a part of. It’s a community I will support as much as I’m able. I encourage everyone who cares about teens to do more than figure out how to reach and market to them more effectively. Find groups, causes and communities that matter to the people who matter to you and get involved. You, like me, should feel free to stand at the back and show your support.

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