The power of adolescents
“There is hope in the next generation… I’m optimistic about our kids, always,” stated former first lady Michelle Obama as she offered praises for the Florida students who were shooting survivors and have been speaking out for gun control.
These students are “kids” in their adolescence. Does Mrs. Obama’s praise for the adolescent shooting survivors sound familiar?
More than a century ago, an 18-year-old adolescent wrote and dedicated a poem to the youth of his time, winning him first prize in a poetry contest. This adolescent was Pepe, later Dr. Jose Rizal who became the National Hero of the Philippine. Rizal was executed by the Spanish colonial authorities at the age of 35.
“Ang kabataan ang pag-asa ng bayan (The youth is the hope of the fatherland)” is the famous quote from Pepe’s poem. The poem was entitled, “A La Juventud Filipina (To the Filipino Youth).”
The context of this quote presumably is still relevant today, from Mrs. Obama’s perspective.
This quote has been rephrased, interpreted and contextualized in so many ways, perhaps one of the latest presented by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2015: Adolescents are the greatest resource for a society to thrive.
Power of many
Studies show that there are about 1.2 billion individuals aged 10 to 19; or one in six (1:6) of the world’s population who are categorized as adolescents. The Florida students shooting survivors are part of this 1.2 billion.
In the Philippine alone, there were 18 million aged 15-24, comprising 19.6 or almost 20 percent of the total population in 2010. This is projected to expand further in the near future, reaching a historical peak of 22.2 million in 2040, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA).
These numbers suggest that as a collective unit, adolescence have the capacity to influence many sectors of society. Adolescents could be the great lifestyle-disrupters ever; dubbed the Post-Millennials, Gen-Z, or simply iGen. Their power extends from birth control compliance and the patronage of Uber,® to mastery of social media technology, and “child activism” or #NeverAgain advocacy.
WHO organization has been encouraging every nation to invest in adolescence for a three-pronged benefit: healthy adolescents are benefited now; they become healthy adults in the future; healthy adults lead to a thriving next generation.
Healthy adolescents now – When adolescents of today are provided the right support and opportunity, taught positive habits, equipped with constructive forms of risk-taking; prevented from and provided with treatment for such problems as substance use, mental disorders, and injuries, they are immediately benefited.
Healthy adults in the future – When adolescents are supported and inculcated with healthy behaviors during adolescence such as proper diet, physical activity, and — if sexually active — safe-sex practices, reduced use of alcohol or illicit drugs, it is a good start in setting a pattern of healthy lifestyles, thereby reducing disability and premature mortality later in adulthood.
Healthy future generations – When adolescents accumulate healthy practices, good physical and mental hygiene, and recognize prevention of risk factors during adulthood, they tend to achieve a balanced wellbeing. Well-balanced adults help protect the health (body and mind) of the next generations’ offspring.
Moreover, when adolescents are healthy, they bring economic benefits to society. They become more productive; their health costs are reduced thus enhancing social capital. A social capital that is harmonious, functioning, and mutually supportive, it is a more powerful asset than any advocacy.
The healthier adolescents are in body and mind, the more productive they become, and the happier they will be enjoying the best quality of life.
Gautama Buddha a great philosopher in 563 BCE, reminded us that to keep the body in good health is a duty; otherwise, we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear.
The Florida shooting survivors are in their adolescence; many are often already in a precarious transition between childhood and adulthood due to the significant changes in their physical, cognitive, moral, and social development.
Many are likely experiencing the “stress and storm” of adolescence. Would the #NeverAgain movement burden them somehow?
Maybe not. Studies remind us that resiliency is also a great, salient reserve during adolescence.. This could be a positive component of their learning process.
“They are smart, they are passionate, and they do have the right values. They know inequity. They know wrong when they see it. There is hope in that next generation. They’re tired of watching us do the same old thing and expect different results,” again, according to Mrs. Obama.
Moreover, Dr. Flavia Bustreo, WHO Assistant Director-General in 2016 stated, “Adolescents have been entirely absent from national health plans for decades,” which obviously must include mental health plans as well.
A relatively small investment focused on adolescents now will not only result in healthy and empowered adults who thrive and contribute positively to their communities, but it will also result in healthier future generations, yielding enormous returns.
So, would #NeverAgain’s efforts to protect school children from gun violence win this time around? Would adult lawmakers decide to invest in the youth for the benefit of all?
Your guess is as good as mine.
Dr. Carson-Arenas is a fellow and Certified Clinical Psychology Specialist, and a former university research director. He is a Behavior Analyst Specialist in Nevada, an educator, clinician, researcher and a published author. (Parts of this piece are excerpts from the book, UNDERSTANDING SELF (pag-unawa sa sarili): THROUGH THE EYES OF ADOLESCENCE co-authored by his daughter Abbygale Arenas-de Leon to be published this year). Please e-mail at: [email protected]