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The Power of Young Voices

Teenagers across the globe share similar dreams, fears, and questions. It's time we heard what they have to say.

Image via Shutterstock
Image via Shutterstock

If you’re a student ages 13-18 with a passion for mental health, well-being, and healthier relationships with technology and social media, Thrive Global wants to publish your work on Thrive on Campus! We’re joining forces on a special Op-Ed Writing Competition with Write the World, an interactive online global community for student writers to develop their voices, refine their editing skills, and get their work published on an international platform. Thrive’s Editorial Director, Marina Khidekel, will be the guest judge. See here for the story prompt and more details.

I’ve been a lawyer and businessman, but at heart, I consider myself a writer. Writing words is how I’ve always tried to make sense of the world — and my place in it. As a teenager, growing up in New York City in the 1960s, the world was hard to fathom. Daily casualty reports from a war in Vietnam. Two Kennedys, a King, and Malcolm X murdered. Churches burned in the South.

In high school, I found refuge from the chaos within the neatly ruled landscape of my spiral notebook. In that private place, with trusty Mongol No. 2 pencil in hand, I wrote words of poetry, looking for meaning beneath the strife. The teaching of Mr. Fenster, my ninth grade physics instructor, played in my head, “The universe remains in a state of equilibrium — despite constant change.” For me, the daily ritual of quiet reflection and writing balanced the entropy of life in the 1960s.

In those days, I shared my poems with a small circle of like-minded friends. We all wrote poetry.  We all followed the instinct to put our thoughts to paper — and shared our words out loud with one another. Reading poetry in the unfinished basement where my parents wouldn’t go. Of course, that era played out long before computers entered our homes and pockets. But these days, I still feel of kindred spirit with young writers who long to seek life’s meaning — and connect with others — through the arduous but rewarding practice of writing. And when I teach and mentor young lawyers, I explain that the right words, carefully chosen and negotiated, have the power to bridge differences between adversaries — and reach a “meeting of the minds.” There’s beauty in poetic abstraction — and practical benefit in mutually understood precision.

Young adults today ‚ similar to the 1960s — seek to discover self-identity, balance, and companionship in an otherwise challenging and often overwhelming world.  Writing — regardless of the genre or form — offers young adults an exquisite sense of agency at this perplexing, but pivotal time in their lives. Teenagers across the globe share similar dreams, fears, and questions. Indeed, the power of writing to illuminate the experience of adolescence motivated me to create an international writing community: Write the World (writetheworld.com). This online community enables teens to journey beyond the confines of their school’s micro community to become global citizens.  

By writing for and within a global audience of their peers, young adults test their thoughts and feelings — not in isolation or among a small circle of friends — but in a diverse, supportive, and empathetic community. Peers offer constructive feedback on drafts and teach one another the careful enterprise of reading and responding constructively to the work of another. Teen writers are encouraged to share feedback with peers as suggestions, not solutions — as pearls of encouragement. In turn, this process helps young adults to both give better feedback and be open to receiving it. The art of giving feedback — of writing within a community — becomes an activity that develops the social skills of empathy, compassion, influence, perseverance, and listening to others — with respect and tolerance. We know these social skills are just as important as grades to success in college, work, and life. And when a community models and practices these skills, the collective impact is strengthened and quickly spreads.  

Today’s teens have the confidence to raise their voices and publish their work on a global stage. Teens are empowered to take the personal risks of publishing words that portray their authentic selves — and gain the resilience and courage to accept well-intentioned peer feedback.

Writing can transform ourselves and our world. Today’s telecommunications technologies multiply the power of writing to engage, motivate, empower, and explore differences. No need to hang out in unfinished basements when today’s teens can join a writing community like Write the World and share thoughts with tens of thousands of young writers from around the world. The fundamental learning dynamics of my parents’ basement haven’t changed. But the global scale of today’s online writing communities helps teens make better sense of — and help change — the world.


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More on Mental Health on Campus:

What Campus Mental Health Centers Are Doing to Keep Up With Student Need

If You’re a Student Who’s Struggling With Mental Health, These 7 Tips Will Help

The Hidden Stress of RAs in the Student Mental Health Crisis

The Thrive Global Community welcomes voices from many spheres. We publish pieces written by outside contributors with a wide range of opinions, which don’t necessarily reflect our own. Learn more or join us as a community member!
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