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What Teenagers Can Teach Us

More than thirty women and girls filled the room. Most were smiling; some dabbed at their eyes. The energy level was high as different girls presented, with the audience supporting them every step of the way. The gathering was a competition and yet there were cries of Good Luck and applauses all around for everyone.

This was the final workshop for the most recent cohort that graduated from the Actv8 Network program. This cohort worked with Pearson’s Women in Technology members to develop insights that the company will use to create new educational products. The women signed up for the program wanting to give back—by imparting their knowledge and experience as leaders in their own right.

What they didn’t realize was how much they would get back from the students themselves.

Businesses stand to gain in multiple ways, including financially, by working with young students. This cohort of female students, aged between fourteen and fifteen years old, typically falls outside the group that companies engage with. They are sometimes seen as too far from the employability age, and other times categorized as philanthropy—a group to be helped rather than a group who can help.

We all need help, whether we like to admit it or not. And teenagers, with the proper guidance given to them, can help open our eyes.

Awaken Creativity

One of the tasks for this cohort was to research the best methods to engage with learners. The methods could range from classroom learning to project-based learning. In addition to the interviews and surveys they conducted, one team stepped up and designed a gaming app. The app highlights the challenge that governments and businesses have in managing limited resources and balancing the interests of the community and investors to create a positive impact.

For instance, what decision should a business take between building environmentally-friendly products and investing in employee training? In short, the challenge that stakeholder capitalism faces.

What an incredible level of maturity and understanding displayed by the fourteen-year-old students!

The insights shared during the workshop generated buzz and triggered more ideas to create a more engaging and enjoyable learning experience in the future. The women and students built on each other’s ideas which created business value and resulted in other less measurable benefits—increased creativity, engagement, and teamwork.

Deepen Empathy

We have multiple generations working together in companies, each with different skillsets and experience and varied communication styles. The Baby Boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, may prefer to meet in person. In comparison, Gen Z, the earliest born in 1997, may expect to choose from where they work and prefer virtual work meetings.

Such differences in expectations and perspectives should be celebrated and respected. Just as diversity in gender and ethnicity can enrich our knowledge base, so can diversity in age. Each group has something to offer.

Photo by Andrea Tummons on Unsplash

Multi-generational projects such as at Actv8 Network create an opportunity to develop empathy and improve our ability to listen. Each person comes to the table with their unique perspective to answer the question at hand. The teams and program are designed intentionally so that each person has an opportunity to speak up and share their point of view.

Cohort after cohort, sustainability has shown up as a cause for anxiety with teenagers. Eco-anxiety, or the persistent worry about the planet’s future, affects 70 percent of eighteen to twenty-four-year-olds.

When we engage with this younger group, whether as individuals or as part of companies, we see the world from their eyes and understand what is important to them. This could influence the development of new products, recruitment and talent management, and engagement in the community. Keeping the perspective of this group in mind creates sustainable growth and a positive social impact.

Spark Communication

With empathy comes communication. Instead of a one-way conversation, the learning becomes two-ways. Women and students learned from each other as they shared and reflected on each other’s perspectives and experiences.

The women developed their coaching skills and increased their own critical thinking and reflection. Some found that they asked more questions instead of providing solutions quickly at work. They were more curious and listened more before speaking.

Photo by Alena Darmel from Pexels

Other mentors reflected that they saw versions of themselves as they coached the students. This helped them understand themselves better—how they approached problems and how they could better overcome challenges.

Personally, I was blown away by how quickly the students learned. Quite often, the students mature and come into their own as they gain more confidence in the brief period of three months over the program.

This recent cohort met with a data analyst who shared her thoughts on research bias and tips to enhance their critical thinking. Then just a week later, the teams applied what the analyst taught them into their research and presentation! They displayed critical thinking, courage and vulnerability to experiment with a new skill, and willingness to learn. This made me reflect on my own learning journey.

For companies, these types of projects offer an opportunity to develop their employees in an alternative way to guided training programs. In addition, there is a positive socio and economic impact on the community, and the employees feel empowered when they give back under such programs.

But They Are Still Teenagers

We need to remember that teenagers are still at a vulnerable age. They are sensitive to what they are told and hear—and as such, they need protection and guidance. Any program should be thoughtfully designed and work best with parents’ and teachers' support and collaboration. The program needs to cater to the needs of the adult and teenager participants to reap all the benefits of cross-generational engagement.

What Goes Around Comes Around

Businesses can create a positive socio impact and financial growth by engaging in cross-generational projects with teenagers. It is an opportunity to cultivate future leaders and develop their employees. An engaged and creative workforce creates a more innovative culture that can only help the business grow sustainably.

You get back as much as you give when you invest in our future leaders.

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