The kids are all right.
Despite the moaning and groaning of old people like me when they talk about “kids these days,” I think the future is in good hands.
Certainly better hands than we’re in today.
As the parent of a 13-year-old and 11-year-old, I’ve got front row seat for “kids these days.” I don’t buy it. They’re tough, smart and motivated.
Most days, I drive three ’tween girls to middle school. My daughter and her friends are thoughtful, engaged, smart and articulate. They have a strong sense of social justice, they work hard and they go the extra mile in school, athletics and extracurricular activities.
They are competitive, and they keep score.
And in my work advocating for progressive policies, I have the chance to meet and work with high school kids and young adults who are on the vanguard of social change and progress.
Take, for example, Gavin Grimm, a transgender boy from Virginia. Gavin sued his school system so he could use the appropriate bathroom. He stood up in front of his community and the world and he advocated for himself and other transgender kids.
He even earned scorn from Gov. Paul LePage, who without reason joined in the suit on the wrong side of history – and against Gavin.
There’s Jessie Lamphere in South Dakota who took a public stand against legislation targeting transgender youth. He won, even as an onslaught of terrible bills targeting kids makes the rounds in state legislatures around the country.
In Lewiston, middle school kids led a walkout after a classmate killed herself. They wanted to fight back against bullying, to raise awareness about suicide and to honor their friend. They risked discipline, though the school rightly didn’t punish anyone.
Their actions have earned statewide attention and led to real questions being raised about the mental health services available to kids.
In Bangor, high school students led the Steps for Souls: Suicide Awareness Walk to encourage people who are having trouble to get help.
Every year, students from King Middle School in Portland organize and lead a march to City Hall to raise awareness about the risks of climate change and to call for action.
Another student at King Middle School made national headlines when she took on the school’s dress code. Molly Neuner told the world that she’s not a distraction regardless of whether she’s wearing a tank top or a t-shirt. The dress code is now under review to make sure that it’s fair to all students.
Last year at Peaks Island Elementary, students carried around a week’s worth of garbage to better understand how much waste they create.
My daughter, Addie, and her friend Lainey Randall have launched a project to engage the community to reduce ocean pollution. They testified before the city council, met with the Gulf of Maine Research Institute and have organized a beach clean up for noon on June 4 at East End Beach in Portland.
If you’re nearby, come, bring your smart phone (they are using an app from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) to track the marine debris they collect.
Yes, I’m bragging a bit on my kid. Pick up some litter this weekend anyway just because it’s the right thing to do.
There are real problems facing kids in Maine today. Hunger and extreme poverty are up in the state, education is underfunded and schools are crumbling. The kids are bombarded with technology and communications that leave my head spinning and they face a world that seems to be growing more cruel and less compassionate.
They’re growing up during a time when a terrorist attacks kids like them at a concert in Manchester, England. And our politics seem broken from the top right on down.
But in the face of all of that, these kids are stepping up and taking on big challenges and big problems.
While political leaders are paralyzed to take action, the kids are doing what they can – one lawsuit, one protest, one walk out, one piece of litter at a time – to make the world better.
Perhaps it’s because they’re still young and optimistic – or maybe because they learned early that in life showing up is half the fight – they’re taking on big problems, undaunted and with little regard for the enormity of the work ahead.
So count me a fan of Generation Z, and all the fearless, empowered kids out there who are trying to make the world better.
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell me about the cool things your kids are doing. I’d love to hear.