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In the age of the influencer, who’s influencing our teens?

In the age of the influencer, who’s influencing our teens?

There comes a time in a child’s journey when they will become skeptical of advice, simply because it comes from an adult. Usually, it’s right when they need solid advice most, from someone older and wiser, around age 11. On top of that, it’s the age of the influencer, with people becoming TikTok famous overnight, for less-than-exemplary reasons and challenges are creating mayhem in schools across the country. 

 

There’s just no getting around the impacts of social media on our teens. In fact, new information seems to always be coming to light about the long-term negative effects on the teenage population that has come up in the social media age. Recently, Facebook’s own documents reveal that Instagram is ‘toxic for teen girls,’ as significant mental health issues arise, particularly with regard to teen body image. Nonetheless, 86% of young people aspire to be influencers on social media.

 

Adolescence is a crucial time in human development. As adolescents find their voices, and learn who they are, they also can be easily swayed by their close relationships. Historically, a teenage life has been largely influenced by peers, parents, community, and society. Yet, in this age of social media, we don’t really know the scope of our children’s “community” or “society” anymore, and their respective influences.

 

If you’re parenting a teen, they are certainly being influenced, but do you know who those influencers are? If your child hangs with the right crowd, or has a go-getter sib, that’s good news. But what to do if not? Short answer: You need key people to provide a positive influence on your teen.

 

  1. Encourage your teen to engage in an extra-curricular activity. Teen anxiety and depression are a huge and growing problem. One thing that can help is discovering a new passion and a community of like-minded peers. A club or a sport, particularly with an excellent teacher, leader or coach, can be a tremendous gift that keeps on giving to your teen. Even trying a bunch of new things in search of a passion is beneficial.
  2. Introduce your teen to a mindfulness practice. There’s a lot to be gained when an adolescent learns to cultivate trust in their own guidance systems, instead of always responding to outside influences and impulses to check and scroll their phones. There are many meditation apps full of resources and quick meditations, like Calm and Insight Timer. Practicing meditation and mindfulness can help teens cultivate the mindset it takes to move through life with more confidence and self-love. They also help build resilience in the face of constant comparison created by the prevalence of social media
  3. Seek older peer role models to spend time with and mentor your teen. One friend’s good example can go a long way. Positive peer pressure often involves more encouragement and support than actual pressure or persuasion, and is highly effective at forming good habits and encouraging motivation. And if your teen is exemplary in certain areas, seek out opportunities for them to mentor younger peers, which also offers tremendous growth potential.

 

When I set out with my teenage son, to create a platform to connect young teens with positive near-peer mentorship, we first got to work hiring the most stellar mentors that we could find. We hired students across the country aged 16-22, who not only have amazing academic records, but also each pursue unique passions and extracurricular activities. We enjoy hearing from parents, how these talented young adults offer good, practical advice to young teens as they navigate middle school and prepare for high school. They are also rigorously vetted and have excellent letters of recommendation.

 

My son and I knew that for our virtual community to be successful we had to leverage the value and impact that near-peer mentorship can have on young teens and tweens, who are just now finding their voices and their way in the world, and crave the validation of older peers. Like many of us, they want to feel seen, heard, respected, and valued. Our peer mentors truly care about providing support and guidance to our young students. It’s clear that the right influences can have long-term positive effects on young teens. Is your child connecting with aspirational peers?

 

To your success,

 

Christine Hutchison, Founder

Teen Innovators is a mentorship community created to foster innovation in students age 11-15, and provide them with the tools and confidence they need to succeed as leaders of tomorrow. Now offering virtual after-school clubs! Explore our programs at Teeninnovators.com.

Giving our teens the sense of connection and belonging they need to thrive

Giving our teens the sense of connection and belonging they need to thrive

Of the many things you can provide your children, a sense of community may be among the most important gifts they receive. Social connectedness is extremely important for mental wellbeing and longevity. In fact, According to Tal Ben-Shahar, a lecturer at Columbia University and author of seven books on happiness, “the number one predictor of happiness is the time we spend with people we care about and who care about us.” So if the time spent with friends is so crucial, it makes sense to make friends that support one’s well-being, too.

Recent CDC findings published in Pediatrics show that a sense of belonging among youth also has effects lasting into adulthood, stating that “youth who feel connected at school and at home were found to be as much as 66% less likely to experience health risk behaviors related to sexual health, substance use, violence, and mental health in adulthood.” That’s a powerful statistic, yet perhaps not surprising. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s how much we humans want to connect with one another.

Living through isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic made the importance of connection and belonging increasingly obvious. Compared with 2019, the proportion of mental health–related hospital visits for children aged 5–11 and 12–17 years increased approximately 24%. and 31%, respectively. But there is hope for improvement, as schools reopen and students again have more interaction with classmates and teachers. 

The question for many of our kids remains, are they feeling connected with their “right tribe”? Especially if your teen is ‘different’, gifted, more inquisitive, or learns differently, they may have more of a challenge in finding and making like-minded friends. Even though you can’t control your child’s internal sense of belonging, there are a few ways you can encourage your child to access it. Here are 3 of our top recommendations.

  1. Branch out. Talk up opportunities to meet and expand your teen’s friend groups. While school classes are the likely venue to establish new friendships, there are other settings like clubs, sports, and classes offered in your local community. Even if your child believes she is ‘not athletic,’ park district sports teams are often a low-pressure way to gain new skills and new friends. Encourage kids to think about these opportunities like a new adventure. Something to try for one session, and then decide if it’s not for them. New connections and friends made outside of your school environment can also make the transition into middle school or high school smoother for your teen.
  2. Be authentic. Let your child know that being real means being willing to be seen as you are, without changing yourself for pleasing or performing for others. Even though to many young teens, “fitting in” may seem of paramount importance, altering your true self in order to feel comfortable in a group is not true belonging. It’s actually hiding. Authenticity – being who you are so that your insides match your outsides – is essential to that sense of connection and belonging that we’re discussing here.
  3. Be Brave. Bravery is a skill. Lots of teens (and adults!) have trouble motivating themselves to do things that feel scary. And starting conversations with potential new friends can be just that. But what do they have to lose, other than two awkward minutes at worst? What’s to gain? Could be a friend for life. Encourage your teen to listen to their gut about who they have something in common with. Those are the people to try connecting with first. Talk with your teen and come up with 5 questions they can use as conversation starters. (Questions are great, because people love to talk about themselves!) Think of it as helping your teen prepare a toolbox that he can pull from when needed. Once they get the hang of it, starting conversations will become much more natural.

 

If you’re reading this, I know you want the best for your kids. But like most of us, sometimes you may feel too busy or tapped yourself to provide the attention your kids need to live their best lives. At Teen Innovators, we provide support by making vital connections between young teens and near-peer mentors, who provide constructive, social support, and positively influence their lives. Mentor sessions are available on-demand and virtual, so students can login from anywhere!

We strive to create a sense of belonging. Through our work with many younger teens, we’ve learned that what unites them is a desire for community, a safe space to engage, socialize, and feel heard and validated. Our mentors get it. Either high school seniors or recent high school graduates, these are accomplished young adults with fresh experiences that teens can learn from and relate with. 

 

This fall, we are launching virtual after-school clubs, led by our stellar peer mentors. In this new format, we’re providing young teens a space where they can connect with caring older peers, as well as with like-minded young teens from across the country. Up first? Video Game Like a Pro by playing Minecraft and Fortnite.  Also on the schedule are Explorer’s Club, in which students will virtually explore a new city at each meeting, and Animals Club, where students will learn how to care for their pets and favorite animals, as well as learn about potential careers in animal-related fields. Coming soon are Author’s Club for teens who feel inspired to write a book, and Be Your Own Boss Club, for budding entrepreneurs. While our clubs offer something for everyone, belonging is the universal side benefit that keeps on giving.

To your success,

Christine Hutchison, Founder

Teen Innovators strives to improve students’ social and mental well being, Teen Innovators provides after school near peer mentoring sessions and clubs that foster creative thinking and purpose driven conversations to build leadership and life skills helping teens to feel more confident, energized, and motivated.

Our peer mentors are highly-accomplished older teens and young adults age 17-21, who are passionate about sharing their knowledge with their younger peers. Now offering virtual clubs! Explore our programs at Teeninnovators.com.

Finding Purpose & a Paycheck through Near-Peer Mentorship

Finding Purpose & a Paycheck through Near-Peer Mentorship

September marks my twelfth month as a peer mentor at Teen Innovators, and I have learned so much from my experience with this wonderful company. When I first heard about Teen Innovators, I wondered what it was and why I should join. What stood out for me was that Teen Innovators is a company run by teens and for teens. We, the peer mentors, meet virtually, one-on-one with younger teens in middle school and high school. We strive to meet the student where they are, whether on a connection or leadership track. Meeting via Zoom, we discuss anything from what high school life is like, to how to reduce the amount of plastic used every day. Teen Innovators is a welcoming and inspiring space for young teens to both develop their big ideas about how to make the world a better place, and also connect with peer mentors, whose closeness in age facilitates a quick connection, and the opportunity to learn more about what’s to come in near-future years.

Meeting with these younger teens has had a profound effect on me during these past several months. Through our meetings, I have formed meaningful bonds with the younger teens. Recently, I was able to help guide two students through their participation in the Chicago Student Invention Convention. We met weekly to discuss their inventions and polish their presentations. When meeting with another student, we discussed ways to promote more racial equality in the world on both a large-scale level and a day-to-day basis. I also met with a teen on the connection track, and we had a lovely conversation, sharing funny stories from school and discussing our hobbies.

Through these experiences, I was surprised at how much I have developed both personally and professionally. By meeting with teens and guiding our conversations, I have become immensely more comfortable talking with new people. I have grown in confidence by sharing at our free-to-the-public ‘Tuesdays with Teen Innovators’ sessions. I have also learned what it takes to begin and maintain a startup company, such as the importance of communication and planning that has been key for keeping Teen Innovators running and growing, especially in this virtual world. I have also developed skills in marketing and learned that keeping up with trending TikToks is not as easy as it sounds! Through both the business and mentoring aspects of the company, Teen Innovators has created a space for me to grow as a leader, as well as make a significant impact on younger teens’ lives.

My time at Teen Innovators has taught me the value of feeling fulfilled and on-purpose in my work. Ultimately, that feels like success to me. Helping younger teens as they look for their own sense of fulfillment and purpose in life, while experiencing that for myself, has been the biggest gift of all.