Monthly Archives: June 2011

How Jewish Youth Go About Repairing the World

A report came out recently detailing the volunteer activities of Jewish young adults.  Some interesting facts emerge:

The good news  is that a large percentage of these young adults are participating in community work at a rate of  up to 86% depending on denominational and identity factors.  Also, over three-quarters of them are involved in civic activity. 

The bad news? Most of the volunteering takes place infrequently and is episodic.

Though the population examined is “young adults” my own experience with teens mirror these two findings.  So many students have told me about their “mitzvah project” in the year leading up to and including the Bar/Bat mitzvah year. 

They see  the experience as an obligatory ‘check off’ on the list of tasks they need to accomplish and perhaps talk about from the podium.  A small minority might even get local press about their efforts.  Few, if any, continue the practice beyond the mandated time. 

I don’t disagree with the idea that service is a value to be pursued, but if we desire different results, we need to examine the process of how we engage these young teens.  It may be that the launch of these volunteer projects in tandem with this Jewish rite of passage feels a bit forced. 

It is interesting to note that according to the survey, young Jewish adults don’t even know about volunteer opportunities in the Jewish community, and feel that Jewish organizations do not address the causes that are most relevant for them.  Wow.  In addition, it seems that Jewish values are not the prime motivators for their decisions, but rather universal values are.  This is not a bad thing, but if Jewish identification is what we’re after when we pitch  doing ‘mitzvahs’, then we are missing a big opportunity.


“The Truth About Youth”: What we can Learn

The world in mosaic tiles, courtesy of Genista.

I recently visited a blog on manufacturing (not my usual topic for browsing) because it featured information on a study of 7000 teens worldwide conducted by the McCann Worldgroup, a leading global marketing communications company. 

I was immediately intrigued.  Wow, this organization (even if for marketing and branding purposes) decided to put a whole lot of effort into surveying teens and the importance they place on values. 

This study, called “The Truth About Youth”  by one of the world’s largest marketing communications networks, is easy reading at 20 pages, and you may want to check it out.  Granted, missing for me are more details: how the survey was conducted, a copy of the survey measure, how respondents were contacted, age/country breakdown and more, but after all, this was a marketing study not research for a dissertation.  I’ll take what information I can get. 

In this post, I’ll comment about only a few of the findings.  One: “We’ve seen the emergence of a generation with fundamental commonalities that transcend borders.  The same three motivations are ranked highly in every country (emphasis mine):

Commune: the need for connection, relationships and community

Justice: the need for social and personal justice, to do what’s right, to be an activist

Authenticity: the need to see things as they are.”  p.3

For non-profit groups working with teens, this information is affirming.  Teens need to connect to a larger purpose across multiple levels, and we need to be upfront and honest in our dealings with them and with the information they receive.  In a non-profit educational environment, we are not only providing a service, but our youth really need us to reach out and offer them opportunities to connect in these meaningful ways. 

I’d like to hear your responses, and what programs might respond to these needs.


Teens and the Road to College

Finding your path

This year, thousands of high schoolers will be entering college. Sometimes I think they have things way too figured out, and am not sure whether that’s good or bad in the grand scheme of things.  

For example, I was interviewing an internship candidate who just completed her junior year in high school. I asked her what she thought she’d enjoy taking in college. Her response was not a version of:

 “I’m not sure yet” or

 “I haven’t given that much thought” or

 “I have no clue, just feeling good about finishing out the year” or

“I’m waiting until I get to college to work that out”

She proceeded to tick off two to three very specific careers she was thinking of pursuing: pediatric dietician work, or pediatric emergency medicine, and a third which I can’t remember because I was still in awe after hearing the first two.

Although she hasn’t yet selected a college, she’s pretty sure of what her path will be once she gets there.  What is wrong with that? Don’t we want our youth to be focused and thinking ahead? I doubt this bright young junior is the only one who has these things all worked out, yet it seems to me that the time of exploration and wonder has been way too condensed.  

College used to be the place that you could spend a year or two sampling courses, musing about majors, optimizing degree outcomes, and generally taking some time to work things out.  It was like experiencing an all-inclusive educational buffet and sampling a range of offerings.  Now it seems that the pressure is on to have a career path in mind before you arrive. 

There are all sorts of reasons why this has occurred, many of them economically driven.   Many colleges, complicit in this, pressure students to declare an early major.  The risk of not doing so may mean thousands of extra dollars spent on courses that may not ‘count’ toward the final destination. 

Overall however, we might be pushing our teens too hard and not letting them swim in the soup of indecision long enough.


%d bloggers like this: