Talking With Teenagers: Inspiring Social Justice in the Adolescent You Love


It is in a teenager’s bones to want to take risks.  The more we help them find their way to appropriate risk-taking behavior, the less likely they are to engage in unhealthy risk-taking behavior.  Social justice is one way that many teenagers I know take healthy—and even hopeful kinds of risks.  I see teenage boys who coach sports for underprivileged children.  I know adolescent girls who go on mission trips every spring and summer, to countries and children they’ve taken to heart.  I have one teenage girl I counsel who is committed to spending her senior year doing all she can to change the culture of her school by bringing awareness to issues involving racism and sexism.  Teenagers have a lot of energy and ideas to bring to the table…in some ways, more than we do, as adults (particularly on the energy side).  They really can make a difference.  And making a difference in their communities or in a cause ends up making even more of a difference in them.

What does the teenager in your life feel passionate about?  Is there a social justice related issue they’ve been inspired by?  Poverty?  Discrimination?  The environment?  If not, what can you do to instill some healthy and hopeful risk-taking ideas and behavior?  Since you’re reading this article, you can guess that the answer would involve some type of questions and conversation.  We can’t talk inspiration or motivation into the kids we love…although we often wish we could.  But, we can ask questions to help them connect the dots.  We can create conversations that invite them to think more and find inspiration on their own.  We can also do things like volunteer as a family, and let them choose where we spend our time.  Or, give them money to give away, and let them choose where they’d like to donate.  

Here are a few socially motivated questions to talk about around your dinner table, or riding in the car with your teenagers:

If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be?

If you could change something about our country, what would you change?  

What do you believe are the problems that will be worse for your children than they are today?

What do you worry about the most, from a global perspective?  

If there is an area of the world that you could go in and change one thing, where would you go and what would you change?  

If you were the President, what would you do to help people?

What do you feel particularly passionate about?

What kinds of people do you want to help the most?

If you zoomed in on the world closest around you, in your community or the ones closest to you, what is one thing you could do to help?  

If you zoomed out to the world, what is one thing you could do to help?

How can I help you get those things in motion?

-originally published in Parenting Teens magazine