Is there anythings as irritating people who say, “everything will work out for the best” or “if you work hard enough, you’re sure to succeed.”? Both statements are false. For teens, it can be so hard to realize things aren't going to work out as planned; but that's life, things rarely go as smoothly as we'd like no matter how hard you try.
Despite those reassuring but empty words, we can all think of occasions when terrible things have happened or carefully laid plans fell apart. That is as true for teens as it is for any of us — in fact, it is probably truer for teens since they have not yet built up the armor of cynicism that can help protect them from life’s harsher realities.
As an adult in a teen’s life, it can be so hard to watch as issues come up that don’t work out for the best, or as dreams fade and fall by the wayside. For most teens, these years before adulthood can be a halcyon time; but for others this just isn’t the case. For teenagers dealing with a host of big issues — from mental health to discrimination to serious health problems to poverty, violence, displacement and terror — the die can be cast and these years may cast long and dark shadows that last a lifetime.
For teens whose lives aren’t meadows full of rainbows and unicorns, the adults around them need to be there to help make the best of the difficult circumstances they face. That’s often easier said than done. Part of the problem is that kids that face these struggles and disappointments aren’t always warm and fuzzy. Teens dealing with mental health or substance abuse issues aren’t always sympathetic or easy to get along with, but they are often the very teens that need to most empathy and support.
It doesn’t mean painting the world with doom and gloom though. Supporting and promoting a world that is welcoming and accepting of all types of teens may be difficult but it can also be an uplifting and positive experience; but even when it isn’t, it is important work that we all need to be invested in.
For individuals or organizations that interact with teens, it’s important to recognize that some kids are having a harder time than others and act accordingly. What does this mean? It means acknowledging the challenges these teens face, it means not presenting a picture of teenage life that is so uniformly chipper and upbeat that it excludes precisely those teens that often want more than anything to feel a sense of belonging. There are businesses and brands that do recognize these big problems and are trying to help.
Today, for example, is Red Nose Day, a worldwide effort supported by Walgreens, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, NBC, M&Ms and others that aim to end child poverty. Since 1985, the organization has raised more than $1.3 billion that has helped fund multiple youth-oriented charities including the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, Feeding America, Oxfam and Save the Children. This year, NBC is airing special programming in support of the effort. This is brand engagement on a large scale and it’s inspiring to see.
Big and splashy programs have their place, but there are other things that can be done to help smooth the road many teens walk. Here are three things any brand can do to help:
I come to this issue with personal experience that has made me more attuned to the challenges teens can face. That hasn’t meant I have always been up to the challenge or supported the teens around me as well as I could. It does mean that I always try to do better and, at the end of the day, that’s all we can ever do.