Dr. Val Farmer
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Expressing Appreciation To Leaders Of Youth

May 24, 2004

"Consider what heavy responsibility lies upon you in youth, to determine, among realities, by what you be delighted, and, among imaginations, by whose you will be led." -John Ruskin.

Those topsy-turvy teenage years! During that time there is a growing and a stretching toward adulthood. Each day has its possibilities of self-discovery. We have found through our experience as parents of teenagers that we need the encouragement and help of others. Some of that teen energy is directed against us as they struggle to assert their independence.

Fortunately, there is an abundance of adult role models, those special friends of youth, who fill this need. These "friends" are scoutmasters, den leaders, Girl Scout leaders, teachers, coaches, counselors, and religious leaders. They generously share their talents to help youth develop and grow.

A leader can be judged by the scope and importance of the problems he or she tries to solve. These special youth leaders have moved beyond their own personal and family concerns and wrestle unselfishly with the growth and development of somebody else's children.

Association with adult leaders. The purpose of these programs may seem to be the fun, adventure, or the learning that takes place. The real goal is the character development and enhancement of self-esteem fostered through associations with quality adult leaders.

An example: A contestant in a high school competition handed her music to a choir instructor and judge and said, "Here goes nothing." The instructor stopped the young woman and said encouragingly, "Don't say, ‘Here goes nothing;’ say, ‘Here goes everything!’" In that moment, a valuable lesson in attitude and self-confidence was taught.

What a leader does. Young men and women identify with a leader if the relationship is based on mutual enjoyment, acceptance and trust. His or her expectations mean a lot and can motivate a youth to excel.

A leader communicates trust by allowing an adolescent the freedom to make choices and to act independently and responsibly without a lot of anxious concern about the results.

In that context, mistakes are taken in stride and used as learning experiences. Sometimes, these leaders can stand back and tolerate imperfection better than we parents can.

An effective leader also balances the needs of the individual and the group. The quality of effort and planning of the activities communicates a sense of caring.

Building on traditions. A group with a tradition of excellence sets a standard for its members to work toward. Great sports teams, great companies, great countries and great families all consciously build and uphold traditions.

To do so requires the involvement and commitment of everyone. The tradition provides the goal. Teamwork is the path. Youth learn cooperation, communication and a willingness to perform a specific role to make teamwork possible.

One to one. Despite all the attention to group goals and success, an inspirational leader also works effectively on a one-to-one basis. He or she gets to know the special needs and talents of each individual and finds a way to motivate each one.

Through a leader's influence, youth learn to seek life's experiences without fear. They learn they can accomplish goals and that success often comes through preparation and persistence. Youth see new horizons and discover themselves in the process.

"The fairest flower in the garden of creation is a young mind, offering and unfolding itself to the influence of divine wisdom, as the heliotrope turns its sweet blossoms toward the sun." - J. E. Smith

Youth who do not find ready acceptance and appreciation from their peers often find it from an adult leader with whom they have contact. This relationship is a powerful antidote to the rejection they may experience from their peers.

Giving appreciation. Success isn't always dramatic. Young people, being who they are, don't always express appreciation. Sometimes it is years before a leader learns how influential he or she has been.

These leaders need support, appreciation and recognition for the service they give. Parents should be ready to volunteer for special projects and be quick to say "thank you" to these special friends of youth.

The school year is drawing to a close. The end of the year programs put the accomplishments of youth in the limelight. They shine brightly. Behind the floodlights are caring leaders who have pushed, cajoled, led and educated. They deserve a personal pat on the back and recognition for their devotion to the most worthy of causes - preparing the rising generation to be what they can be.

The quickest way to parents’ hearts is to love their children. My heart has been touched many times. Thank you.