DEAR TEENAGE READERS: Many of you are too young to vote but old enough to be aware of what is happening in our world and, specifically, in our country. I worked the day after the presidential election and it’s safe to say almost everyone wanted to talk about the results. No one had scheduled their session Nov. 9 with the idea that it was the day following the election and this would be the topic they needed to process. But there we were. And the broad range of emotions was unpredictable and somewhat scary.
Some people struggled with PED – post-election depression. They felt morally defeated, emotionally exhausted and reeling with shock. Others had PET – post-election triumph. They felt empowered by the vote and happy with the democratic process of allowing the United States people to pick the leader of our amazing country.
For some, they experienced PER – post-election relief – that all the venom thrown back and forth between the candidates would finally cease and we would no longer have to hear all the malicious and negative things each candidate said about the other. Let’s be honest, if this were a high school election for student body president, we, as adults, would never allow the insults and character bashing that we witnessed from both parties. As responsible adults trying to teach you respect and kindness, we owe your generation an apology.
In the teenage world, social media is your version of the nightly news. You tune into it for current events, opinions and to see how the rest of the world is reacting to situations. Going on Twitter on Wednesday felt as if we were in the middle of a civil war – not just because people were voicing their opinions but because they were attacking others for theirs. People were insulting other people, defriending people and being down right mean to each other. So much ugly was shared back and forth. Social media was a verbal war zone.
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But at the bottom of mean is usually hurt, and it was so obvious many people hurt and they took to lashing out and casting judgments on others. Not only was my brain on overload, my heart hurt. As an adult, I found it bewildering, baffling and overwhelming to sift through all the emotion (both sorrow and happiness) vented on social media and I can’t even imagine how you felt or how confusing it must be for your generation.
Here is where I challenge you: Social media is just a fountain spewing misinformation right now. Be careful what you read and be even more careful what you believe. Form your own opinions based on your own research. Don’t get caught up in taking sides against people – don’t we all have the same end goal to live positive lives in a safe and peaceful country?
That’s the beauty of where we live – we can express our thoughts, we are free to think what we want, and the freedom of speech serves as daily reminder that each person is entitled to their opinion. You will work with people who you share different view with, live next door to them, teach them or administer care to them. Now is the time to dig deep and learn from this moment how to respect others even if you struggle with understanding what they believe in.
Be willing to unplug if you need to. Social media should not be a weight or an anchor – if it is, please use the off button. Stop and think before you post, tweet or comment. Offending and insulting other people isn’t communicating, it’s degrading.
Though you may not be of voting age, this doesn’t mean you don’t have choices. You can still decide how you are going to move forward. As young people, your voice is the next voice we will hear. In four years, many of you will be eligible voters and you will be able to speak up, form your own opinions and cast a vote for what you believe. Please don’t take that gift for granted. For those of you who felt disappointment from this election, don’t lose hope or feel defeated. Fighting for what you believe in is a very powerful thing if it is channeled in a positive and inspiring way. Don’t give your power away or stop believing in yourself or all that you are capable of doing. Every teenager, every young person, every high school student has the power to be the change. Don’t just talk change, be change.
How will you rise up? National politics are important, but how about starting at your school or within your friend group? How about reaching out to someone at school that you see being bullied or made fun of or making poor choices. How about all high school girls committing to no longer sending photos of themselves that degrade women and send the wrong message about who we are. How about boys or men responding by being respectful of girls, their bodies and their privacy and parents instill the value of becoming a “gentleman” again. How about we put our smartphones away a few hours a day and learn the art of conversation. How about organizing a movement at your school to reach out to those less fortunate and make a change in those lives. What about becoming a mentor or coaching a youth basketball team or simply reaching out to a neighbor who needs help with their lawn. Complaining or bemoaning on social media does nothing to make us better. If you want to feel better, do better.
We live in an amazing country full of endless opportunities and we have freedoms other people are fighting and dying for. Step up and get moving. Don’t just tweet about it, live it. If you are unhappy with our country or fear what lies ahead, control what you can by doing something positive that makes a difference in your life and the life of someone else. We can not direct the wind, but we can adjust the sails.
Write to Kelly Richardson at Teen Talk, The Sacramento Bee, P.O. Box 15880, Sacramento, CA 95852, or email krichardson@ sacbee.com.