At Lead2Play, we’re all about equipping young people to solve problems. Another word for that is “empowerment.” But what is empowerment? For the most part, it’s become little more than the latest buzzword. However, I think empowerment is much more than that. I would like to define it as a social process that helps people (in this case, young people) gain control over their lives.
- Why is a sense of control important?
In The Self-Driven Child, authors William Stixrud and Ned Johnson discuss the hazards of children who do not feel that they have a sense of control over their lives. Whether it’s pressure to live up to social media ideals, fear of school violence, or threat of nuclear war, our children lead pressure-cooker lives. This leads to stress, anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues.
Lead2Play gives control back to kids by putting them in charge of designing and carrying out unique, inclusive sports and fitness activities. The kids are the ones making choices and decisions and seeing these choices and decisions through to completion. There is great power in that.
- Ease does not empower—problems do.
Problems, challenges and real-life decisions provide the context for empowerment and cultivate leadership. To put it another way, ease does not empower—problems do. Comfort does not bring about empowerment and leadership—a problem, challenge or a crisis does. It’s moving outside of our comfort zones to solve a problem, take on a challenge or embrace a cause or move our team forward that empowers people.
At Lead2Play, every time one of our youth solves a problem (“Our outdoor activity is rained out—what should we do?”) or overcomes a challenge (“I don’t like to speak in front of people, but I need to explain this game to this group of kids.”), it adds another layer to their sense of empowerment.
- With power comes responsibility, and with responsibility comes empowerment.
Sterling K. Brown, award-winning actor and star of This Is Us, perfectly expressed the Lead2Play ingredients of empowerment and leadership when he encouraged the graduates at Stanford’s 127th Commencement to let their light shine. “You have an opportunity, a responsibility, to leave this world better than you found it.” Problems come from the outside. Responsibility comes from within. When a young person faces an external challenge while possessing an internal sense of responsibility, good things happen.
- Community ties it all together.
As we continue to develop our programs at Lead2Play, we are driven to follow the lead of The National
Research Council and the Institute of Medicine who have found that the best programs for youth development are those that, among other things, have strong ties with community and offer kids the chance to make contributions to that community. Lead2Play programs do exactly that, whether participants are working with younger kids in economically-challenged schools or working on projects in their own schools and communities that bring youth together.
It is my opinion that the need for youth empowerment and youth leadership has never been greater, because the challenges we are facing have never been greater. We need ethical, service-oriented leaders who serve by leading and lead by serving. At Lead2Play, we are empowering youth to do exactly that.