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Connecting With Youth

Youth Empowerment & Prevention


In my sophomore year of high school in 2001, P.O.D. dropped the hit song: “Youth of the Nation” that I blasted through the speakers in my 1992 Dodge Spirit; windows down, snow or shine. It addressed school shootings, sexual assault, self-worth, poor parenting, suicide, and put into words what so many young people feel:“Who's to blame for the lives that tragedies claim? No matter what you say, it don't take away the pain that I feel inside. I'm tired of all the lies, don't nobody know why it's the blind leading the blind.”


“The blind leading the blind”- a powerful statement that exemplifies the disconnect between adults and youth. If nobody knows what to do, then powerlessness, hopelessness, broken relationships, and chaos ensues.


The leading causes of addiction and suicide are grief, childhood trauma and broken relationships. (cite) If no one is exempt from these things, then where is the hope?


The hope is found in connection, which is the opposite of addiction and hopelessness.Connection means building and maintaining relationships with others. In building relationships, you learn vulnerability, boundaries, resilience, trust, self-confidence, empathy, conflict resolution skills, and the value of healthy relationships. There is much beauty in healthy connection and people need people to experience it.


The youth of our nation are like mirrors to adults. If you see rebellion in them, are you not seeing your own? If you see their anger, do you not feel anger rising in yourself? Our brains contain “mirror neurons” that allow us to smile when someone smiles or cry when we see someone crying. The negative side is when adults mirror anger instead of responding with understanding. It took me a long time to learn how to not mirror my son and instead say, “I understand your anger. I see you, I love you and my job is to help you through this.” Each time, the underlying cause in my son was grief. Responding in anger was like kicking a wounded child. My two younger kids got a better version of me thanks to their older brother. (I love you, Drew!)


Knowing these things, how do we adults connect with our youth? How do we “save” them from a life cut short and teach them how to live a full life free from addiction? Think about what you needed to hear as a teenager and the overwhelming desire you had to both “belong” and maintain your individuality. My favorite method is called “Motivational Interviewing.” MI is a "collaborative, person-centered form of guiding to elicit and strengthen motivation for change.” I encourage everyone to google “Motivational Interviewing” and learn how to ask good questions, to seek FIRST to understand the situation, and work together as a team to come up with a solution. This method works on kids as young as 3 to adults as old as 103.


As you continue the lifelong task of connection with your child, also encourage connection with their community. The Hornbuckle Foundation in Littleton, CO hosts “Youth Night” each Thursday, providing a space for teens to learn how to connect, how to play instruments, create incredible art, how to be ok with failure and enjoy success. One of our youths who has struggled with social situations said, “In school, between class expectations and short lunches, they don’t teach social relationships and how to make friends. I learned how to make friends by participating in youth night.”


Lastly, if you’ve never learned how to heal the grief and trauma you have endured, how can you teach the next generation? I host a Grief Support Group every Tuesday night at our community center. Some meetings are heavier than others, but the common thread is shared experience, hope, solutions and of course, connection. Healing, like parenting, takes a significant amount of bravery. If you don’t have that yet, you can borrow some from the Hornbuckle Foundation community.


Suicide and addiction prevention doesn’t need to be approached with fear or a controlling mindset, but with a mindset of connection and empowerment. Make room in your life to build physical and mental strength so that you can have hard, necessary, and healing conversations with others.


The Youth of the Nation are counting on you.

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