I Was Wrong About Parenting Teenagers

We had only just met, but the first thing this mom of young girls said to me when she found out I had a 17-year-old daughter was "how bad is it?" It took me a second to figure out what she was talking about because it's been about a decade since I expressed my concern over raising teenagers with any of my friends. Once the lightbulb turned on and I realized what she was talking about, I went back to the mantra I repeat often with parents of young children and I said: "I was wrong about parenting teenagers." It's something I wish someone had told me when my three kids were younger, so now I feel like I mention this sentiment on repeat even when people don't ask for my opinion. 

teenage girl in mountains

I never was one to have a favorite stage of childhood. I grab infants from their parents at church, I make faces at the toddler in the grocery cart, I talk about books with the elementary-aged kid I see at the library. But if I'm honest, the people I like the most are teenagers. When I went to Ecuador with World Vision recently to watch the launch of their new Chosen campaign, I got on the ground with babies and zoomed cars around with toddlers. I taught school-aged kids how to play Jenga {they'd been playing it all wrong! What would they have ever done without me?} but it was the group of teenage volunteers that had me the most excited.

I Was Wrong about Parenting Teenagers

I quickly tried to piece together a few words from my high school Spanish and all I could manage to say to the 17-year-old girl in front of me was "la Presidente." I had just met Jennifer under a tree next to the building where a World Vision choosing party was happening. 

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world vision ecuador

I love child sponsorship through World Vision and I was excited to see how this new model of sponsorship, through something they call Chosen, was going to look. I spent some time watching kids walk into a room one at a time and have the power to choose their own sponsor from a clothesline of photos. In the past, a child's photo was taken, added to a picture folder and sent out to be selected by a member of a church or at an event. Kids would sometimes wait a year or more to be chosen. The tables were now turned and children now got to have the choice of who their sponsor would be at various choosing parties all around the world.

Typically, the children available for sponsorship are twelve and under. This is because the goal of sponsorship is to help create a relationship with the sponsor and the child through letters, pictures, and videos. It's hard to create that relationship if a child ages out of the program, typically when they graduate from high school. 

That's not to say that teenagers who aren't in the program don't benefit. In fact, they very much do. It's where my conversation with Jennifer started. You see, the World Vision staff has only been working in Jennifer's community for about two years, but during that time, it had been working with community leaders and teachers to identify the greatest needs of the community. I kept hearing that in the part of Ecuador we were in, that there was a huge issue with teenage pregnancy as well as with violence against children. 

Jennifer explained to me that several years ago, the schools in the area were no longer going to be teaching sex education and health and this was frightening for her. She looked around and saw her friends getting pregnant and dropping out of school falling into the cycle of extreme poverty that was common in her area.

She also saw children getting beaten in their homes daily by their parents, something that was very much a cultural norm because no one had ever come to teach them how to parent differently. 

Jennifer knew something had to change. 

Around this time, World Vision was building relationships in her community and had asked the community leaders if they had any youth who would benefit from an upcoming leadership summit. Jennifer had just petitioned the community for health education and they saw her passion.

Jennifer described how after attending the leadership summit, she made connections that allowed her to create a task force of other teenagers to help share educational messages to the schools and in the classroom as well as on the streets in the form of skits and plays. Her group of teenage volunteers grew and she was getting the attention of the leaders in her community as someone who was passionate and vocal about creating the change she knew needed to happen in her village. 

World Vision gave her the opportunity to attend a National Summit last October where she shared in front of what she called "really important people." These people consisted of heads of government, top executives and business leaders. 

The Trouble of Being a Voice for the Voiceless  

I'll be the first to say that my global perspective was lacking in my upbringing. There wasn't a whole lot of diversity around me and I recognized my ignorance in the past decade or so and have been intentionally working on correcting that. I still have a lot to learn.

One of the things I have had to correct myself in saying is that I'm a voice for the voiceless. How pretentious of me to think.

They already have a voice! They just need to be handed the microphone!

World Vision typically works in the most remote areas because no one else is. They need more people to listen and they need more people to carry their cries further than they can.

It's one of the reasons I love partnering with World Vision. They want to work to amplify those voices. They step back and listen in a community they work in, they don't speak over them and shout their own views just to be heard.

world vision ecuador

Jennifer has a voice. She just needed to be handed the microphone. 

And thanks for World Vision and people who support her community because of child sponsorship, her voice has been amplified. 

Jennifer has a team of teenage volunteers nearing 100. She leads rallies in the streets to bring attention to the need to end childhood violence. She's passing the microphone to other voices so that they can be heard.

world vision ecuador

I'd vote for Jennifer for president. 

To help support girls like Jennifer, find a child to sponsor. Your monthly donation goes to the child you sponsor, but also into the community to support programs like the ones mentioned above.

world vision ecuador

I was all wrong about parenting teenagers. 

There was nothing to be worried about. They are some of the most amazing humans out there. Some of them just need to be handed a microphone so they can live up to their fullest potential. 

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