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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.

Three Things I Wish I Would’ve Known Before Applying to College

Three Things I Wish I Would’ve Known Before Applying to College

Scared about applying to college? Need some tips going into the application process? Well, here in this article, I provide some tips and insights I wish I would have paid more attention to when applying to college:

  1. Research, research, and more research!
    I am not referring to the research you should do before applying to a college, such as the location, demographics, and academics (although you should do that as well); I am referring to the research you should do before writing the supplements. Supplemental materials to your application might include personal essays, a video submission, writing examples, etc. I know at first glance research may seem obvious, but you will be surprised at how many times this goes overlooked. Every college is different and is looking for different qualities. I know it can seem tempting to jump into the supplement and begin writing. However, I would advise against that. For example, if you were thinking about applying to Stanford, you should search up past supplements from students who were admitted. If you do this for each college, not only will you get an understanding of what each college is looking for, you are also setting yourself up for success. Once you do your research, you will find that Stanford does not prefer the “well-rounded” individual but an individual who has a peak in a certain activity/interest. If you play the violin, that can be your peak. It can honestly be anything you enjoy. Focus on that one activity instead of scattering your essays about all the areas in which you are successful.
  2. Don’t be afraid to get creative
    When writing your personal statement and supplements, don’t be afraid to sprinkle in some of your personality. Too many times, prospective applicants tend to write in an overtly professional manner, their supplements drained of personality. While grammar and spelling are super important, your essays should not read like an entry in an academic journal. Instead, your essays should be engaging, clever, and playful. Remember the admissions committee spends around 15 minutes per application. You want to make yourself stand out as much as possible. So instead of viewing these essays as an extension of your academic work, consider viewing them as an extension of your personality.
  3. It is not about the quantity but the quality
    Many prospective applicants are under the impression that they need to achieve a certain amount of extracurriculars in a short amount of time. However, it is not about the number of extracurriculars you have, but what you do with said number. Here’s an example: Applicant A is involved in five extracurricular activities while Applicant B is involved in only two. Applicant B has leadership positions in both the extracurriculars they are involved in while Applicant A is simply a member of the clubs and has no positions/titles. Applicant B would most likely stand out more because it is clear to see that they are passionate about the activities they do, so much so, that they have acquired noteworthy positions in both clubs. Most colleges can tell if a student is in a club just to be in the club. Go a step further and join clubs that truly interest you, not because you think it will look good on a college application. If you only have one or two extracurriculars you are involved in, it is completely okay as long as you a) truly enjoy the activity and b) acquired leadership positions.

With these three tips in mind, you will be sure to give yourself the best chance moving forward! By researching each school, you will know when to expect when tackling the essay portion. Adding in some creativity will allow you to stand out from the thousands of applicants applying to the same school with similar credentials. Finally, do not worry about the amount of extracurriculars you need to do, 1-2 will be sufficient, as long as these activities are things you are very passionate about; this passion should shine through in your application. I hope this helps–good luck!

By one of Teen Innovators’ peer mentors, Nellie.

Times of Crisis Spur Innovation

Times of Crisis Spur Innovation

April is usually the time to recognize the tulips and feel happy when you see the budding trees. COVID-19 has brought a dark cloud and heavy hearts.

Audrey Hepburn said it best, ‘To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.’  Now more than ever, we need to see the beauty in the May flowers.

So let us take time to hear the amazing stories that are popping up.

Start with ‘What If?’

Sometimes it starts with a ‘what if’ conversation.  Take, for example, the story of the couple ideating the problem with the N95 mask shortage.  She is a doctor and he is an engineer.  Together, they discussed the problem over dinner, pooled their collective experience, and figured out how to make a system that decontaminates N95 respirators so they can be used 20 times.

Then there is the Chicago teenager from Walter Peyton High School that founded Connect Chicago days after the Chicago Public School closure.  He connects students to seniors through a phone conversation to help combat loneliness. Koval Distillary saw the demand for hand sanitizer and within one week delivered 100 gallons of free hand sanitizer to Chicago Police and O’Hare air traffic controllers.

Chicago is a town with big ideas and an incredible innovative ecosystem.  Luke Tanen,  Executive Director, Chicago Innovation, believes that ”In times of crisis, there is usually mass amounts of innovation.”  Tom Kuczmarski, co-founder of Chicago Innovation states in a Chicago Tribune article that the key to beating the coronavirus is innovation.

Ideas Turn Into Innovation

It all starts with an idea. Will you be on the frontlines making it happen or reading the headlines after it has occurred?

Join us at Teen Innovators as we inspire young minds to pitch big ideas.