By Michelle Abdon

Instagram handle: @smabdon

There’s this misconception and, quite honestly, missed opportunity that we place on youth. We condition them to believe that their stories only matter when they’re success stories. We give more validity to someone’s opinions and experiences as they get older because we have created a narrative that youth don’t understand the world quite yet.

Young people are powerhouses of knowledge. They are the living histories of their ancestors. They are the product of generations of strength and resilience bred from trauma and hardship. To doubt them is to deny them the history it took to shape them.

Youthwork, especially youthwork mobilized by art, is incredibly important. That’s the core value of the Minnesota Youth Story Squad. This organization is where digital storytelling, youthwork, and education meet. It is a place where we collaborate with youth in order to help them develop the skills to tell their stories (stories that often don’t get the opportunity to be told) through various forms of media. The work we do at Northeast Middle School is important, but it’s not always easy. Days at Northeast aren’t always wrapped in a nice little wrapping paper nor adorned with a fancy ribbon. Students come in as they are. On some days, they are full of excitement and curiosity. On other days, they may be weighed down by a bad day or have things that need their attention in that moment. And that’s okay. Their priority should never be to wow us or waltz to our song. We coexist in the space. We’re not their teachers or their superiors-we’re simply peers who hope to learn from them just as much as we hope to share the things we’ve learned from our own lives.

Ask yourself. . .

When you were younger, what kind of support did you thrive from?

Are you providing that type of support to young people today?

Supporting youth, to me, means that we bring our fullest self and allow them to bring in theirs no matter what shape it takes. Sometimes it might mean stepping back and being critical and mindful of our own toxic behaviors and biases that may be impacting the spaces we share with them. Supporting young people can mean connecting them to your own networks and resources. Supporting young people can even start with the simply asking them: what can I do to support you?

Youthhood doesn’t make young people immune to systemic oppression, mental illness or other health issues, family troubles, or toxic spaces. We need to support young people on the basis that they matter. That on some days they are pained by the same grief we feel. They are no alien to trauma or hardship. Pain is never felt alone. They, just like us, are still trying to navigate the world, still trying to find the words to speak up, still trying to find the right people to speak to.