In this week's 'Teen Talk' column, a teen activist explains why all youth should be given the opportunity to share their voices, advocate for their rights, and develop their passions.

By Ryan Walker
December 23, 2019
Illustration by Caitlin-Marie Miner Ong

After I was selected as the Boys' and Girls' Clubs of America's 2018-2019 National Military Youth of the Year, advocacy became more prominent in my life. As the primary representative for more than 500,000 military-affiliated youth worldwide, I used my platform to advocate for the ideas and needs of youth. I was placed on stage in front of CEOs, at tables with celebrities, in the oval office with the President, meetings with Congresspeople, and in conferences with peers where I was encouraged to speak up and stand up for change. This experience allowed me to grow tremendously, and I soon adapted my college path so I wouldn't ever have to give up my voice or stop fighting for what I believed in. Here's how activism and protesting have helped me grow and why speaking out is so important for my generation.

They Teach Life Skills

When youth are given a chance to share their voices and express what they are passionate about, they develop skills that are often only gained through experiential learning. When advocating, my communication ability grew, as did my writing skills, thanks to the constant need for speeches and letters that would address different audiences. Through meetings with high profile people, my networking skills grew immensely. I learned how to converse with professionals about their work, how to properly ask for business cards, how to write a formal "thank you" note, and how to continue these relationships as time went on. Most importantly, my confidence grew. I became more comfortable speaking in front of large groups, and I started to feel like my voice mattered in a society where people often feel unheard.

They Help Develop Self-Awareness

Continually having to talk about my opinions and experiences led me to constantly question who I was, who I wanted to be, and what I wanted to represent. This constant self-reflection allowed me to brand myself as a tempered individual, one whose experiences and personality traits, both positive and negative, have shaped me into the person I am today. This mentality served as the foundation for the work I did, the people I began to connect with, and the ideas I would bring to the table throughout my year as the Military Youth of the Year.

They're a Real-Life Civics Lesson

Advocacy gave me a better understanding of our government and how it works. These advanced civics lessons helped me understand the barriers that prohibited change while also showing me my rights and abilities as a member of this country. I have always believed in the philosophy that one cannot create change if they don't know their rights or how they can use them; thus, by getting involved and taking a stand, I was able to learn about our government, whether it came from U.S. capitol tours or brainstorming sessions with peers.

Teens Learn to Stand Up for Themselves

Sharing my voice and advocating for my passions helped me find my place within the bigger society. I was able to connect with other youth like me who understood my passions and related to my experiences. With them, I felt like my goals were recognized and that my voice was amplified. Even if I was only heard by a select few, I knew that I was doing my part to improve the well-being of others.

In a world seemingly driven by judgment and hate, it may seem daunting to let your youth "put themselves out there" by voicing their opinions and speaking up about their passions; however, there are many different ways to do so, and by working with your teen, you can find the one way that fits them best.

Ryan Walker is an 18-year-old military child. She is currently in her first year at New York University's Gallatin School of Individualized Study where she is concentrating in photography and social justice.

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