Empowering teenagers: why it’s important to teach young people leadership skills
To mark National Youth Week, let’s look at the importance of developing key leadership and empowerment skills in teenagers, such as self-awareness, self-confidence, communication and empathy.
Last week, we ran our two day Teen Authentic You Retreats where we take the lessons we’ve developed from working with our horses, and used them to develop emotional intelligence, self-confidence and self-awareness in teenage girls.
We had a fantastic two days, filled with laughter, fun and learning. The girls were so engaged and I was proud of their courage and confidence in completing all the tasks.
It’s a welcome reminder of how valuable it is to teach basic leadership skills to teenagers. Not just so they can lead others, but be the best version of themselves. It’s particularly relevant with National Youth Week taking place, with the theme of ‘Together more than ever’.
When we came together for the training, the girls shared some of the key lessons they’d learnt; the amazing thing is they all echo what I say are the fundamentals of good leadership (at any age).
One of the course participants told us: “My word is boundaries. I learnt It’s ok to say no.”
Boundaries are crucial to establish in many areas of a teenager’s life, including interaction with their peers. Discovering and enforcing them is empowering. Horses are very good at this; they will let you know if you’re crossing their boundaries.
But, how do we go about teaching them to our young humans?
Recent government-lead attempts to talk to young people about the more serious issues around consent, while well-meaning, have been criticised for being too confusing, rather than dealing with a serious issue in a straightforward manner. Instead, I think the answer is in treating teenagers with respect, not belittling them and teaching them an essential skill: self-confidence. All boundaries start with being confident in yourself.
Another course participant said: “The horses taught me about body language.”
This is an interesting one, because young people need to communicate well in various parts of their lives: with teachers, employers, friends, coaches and even family. Yet it’s not always something we think to actively teach young people as a way of empowering them.
Many of us have probably heard the famous ‘7%-38%-55% Rule’ developed by Albert Mehrabian, which says that only 7% of communication is the words you use; 38% is tone of voice and 55% is body language.
When you work all day with horses, who only use body language, you become very aware of your own. Learning key communication skills including how to read and be conscious of their own body language is invaluable to young people.
Another participant said: “The horses help you know how to feel. I don’t always know how to feel”.
We’ve all heard stereotypical words thrown around about teenagers: moody, difficult, emotional, bitchy.
Yet their moods are understandable – they’re moving towards the adult world, dealing with pressure from peers and a host of other things. Of course they’re struggling with how to feel!
So, how do we help young people be leaders with better hold on their feelings, for themselves and each other? It’s all about self-awareness. As I wrote last week, self-awareness is the foundation of all great leadership, as it allows us to see our own behaviour and how we impact others. It’s a skill we can all work on developing.
And finally, we had a young participant tell us: “I learnt about forgiveness, because the horses forgive us”.
Wow. What a wonderful realisation. For me, forgiveness is a great thing for a young person to master, because it shows compassion. And all great leaders are compassionate; they can see the perspective of others and use it to make themselves and those they lead stronger and happier.
And, experts say that for our young leaders, teaching compassion and empathy can combat serious problems like bullying and aggression. Compassion is a skill that will set them up as socially responsible citizens for life.
Put all these skills together and you’ve taken a great first step towards empowering teenagers to be leaders in their lives.
In addition to our two day in-person teen retreat, we have developed a six week online course, ’Be You’ Teen Empowerment Program to further emotional intelligence, self-awareness and self-confidence. The program has been designed in partnership with educators and is endorsed by child & adolescent mental Health Professionals to ensure the robust nature, and psychological safety of the content provided. For those based in Australia, the program has been developed in line with the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) and the NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA) curriculum and syllabus guidelines. ‘Be You’ meets required learning outcomes within the NSW PDHPE Syllabus for Stage 4 students.
Interested in our teen empowerment program, or any of our other unique leadership training with horses? Get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.