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Celebrating This Generation of Youth

By Thelma Uranga

I often hear grown folks saying how this generation is backwards. The commentary is sometimes accompanied by an internet meme that takes swipes at present-day slang being used by youth, current music or simply the amount of technology that youth use. Aside from the layer of adultism that comes with remarks like this, let's take a minute to remember that every youth generation had its questionable moments. From Elvis' pelvic thrusts in the 50s, to hippies in the 70s and grunge culture in the 90s, every generation truly has its own set of cultural peculiarities. Let's remember that when we talk about our youth today.

At ElevArte, we opt for positive language when referring to our youth. By acknowledging their contributions, it poises them for positive pathways and leadership in their future. Below are four qualities our youth hold and ways to look at these contributions in an optimistic light. 

Our youth are tech-savvy. Sure they're always plugged into their cell phones or video games. As adults we should monitor screen time, but we can't deny the level of this generation's knowledge with the digital world. They have experience in video-editing, graphic design and an understanding of tools such as cell phones or digital cameras. The use of these techniques and equipment go hand in hand with problem solving. We should find ways to nurture these interests, especially when schools are focusing on future careers in STEAM. We need more youth to be excited about learning; let's teach them how science, math and the arts all play into technology.

Code switching, slang and Urban Dictionary
Code switching is basically the use of a different tone, language or voice depending on the setting. Adults do this all the time. We use our professional voice in a meeting and a fun; more laid back voice when we’re around our friends or family. Teens are the same—they have their own language. As an instructor I always talk about staying relevant. So at the risk of sounding nerdy, I'll ask what a word or phrase means because after all, if I don't speak their language, then how can I communicate effectively? I also find that speaking teens' language is a point of negotiation. It means that you're on their level and willing to meet them halfway. Personally, I’ve noticed that engagement in the classroom rises and teens are enthusiastic to work alongside with me. If you're not familiar with slangs such as bae, lit or squad, I suggest you make friends with urbandictionary.com.  

The arts are a great outlet
Teens have a lot to say. Encourage them to explore the issues that matter to them, participate in dialogue and step out of their comfort zone. One of the best ways to do this is through the arts. Painting, spoken word or arts management are all about taking creative risks, following your gut, and ultimately making important decisions. All of these skills can and will be applied to their future careers and goals. 

Our youth are our future
Like it our not, these teens will grow up to be the adults that we are today. They will join the workforce and be leaders in education, medicine, politics, entrepreneurship and so much more. So while we critique their choice of words, we must remember to nurture their interests, provide them with strong mentors and role models, and ultimately remind them that they can be whatever they want to be. 

If you ever see or hear someone trying to minimize this generation of youth, I invite you to share this list with them. I also invite you to remember yourself as a young person. What words or fads did you follow and how do they equate within our current youth culture? Let’s hold each other accountable, but most importantly let’s believe in the contributions of our youth and foster positive leadership opportunities.

Bio: Thelma joined the ElevArte team in 2011 as the Youth Programs Assistant. As the Communications/Development Coordinator, her current responsibilities include advancing the organization's communication strategies in social media and web maintenance; plus she lends needed support with promotional management and fundraising. Thelma received a BA in Studio Art/Photography from Illinois State University in 2008. A self-proclaimed Juana of all Trades, Thelma is enthusiastic about all things handmade and loves teaching teens to make their own accessories in her program called Sew Stitchy. Other blissful obsessions include baking pies, thrift store shopping and her dog Tula.