We spend the first half of our kids’ childhood, well, let’s face it, most of their childhood, teaching them to follow. We want them to follow rules, laws, paths, coaches, and teachers. We play Simon Says and Follow the Leader. Being a good kid is about doing what someone else says to do.
Then, one day, it’s not. Suddenly, being good, or, better, exceptional, is about being able to lead. To be the editor of the high school yearbook, the captain of the soccer team, or a junior mentor for incoming freshmen—all those fun activities that look great on resumés—they need to be able to lead.
When they apply to the school of their dreams or for the scholarship that will help them pay for it, applications and interviews sniff out their leadership abilities. What groups did you run? What organizations did you start? What issues did you champion?
It’s probably true that some teens develop leadership skills naturally. For the rest? We need to put our kids in safe situations where they can observe good leadership—not just from adults, but also peers—and try it for themselves, without risking too much if things go wrong.
Introduce them to youth groups and movements
Teen-led youth movements offer a range of participation levels, from showing up to fun events where they can hang out with friends, to serving on the board, planning the activity calendar, and running the programs. Teens can join in wherever they are most comfortable. Then they can dial up or back their engagement however they like. Youth group leadership helps teens think about the type of involvement they want to have today and in the future, giving them great experiences to build on and compare with everything that comes after.
Enroll them in camp
At Tel Yehudah, camp life is filled with opportunities for teens to try out their leadership skills with their peers where they feel most comfortable, whether that’s leading Shabbat services, captaining a Maccabia (color war) team, or taking charge of a camp-wide recreational or educational activity.
Send them on trips
When teens spend the night hiking in the wilderness, a few days being activists in Washington, D.C., or several weeks exploring Israel, they pick up real-world leadership skills. Whether they’re leading friends through the woods and choosing a campsite, speaking up for others when they talk to members of Congress, or sharing the responsibilities of traveling in a foreign country, trips to new places include many activities that require teens to step up, make decisions, and grow their leadership skills.
When we put our teenagers in fun, controlled situations where they can test out what it’s like to be out in front, we give them confidence, opportunities, and lessons they will always carry with them.