Helping Teens Find Power in Their Own Voices
For all of us, the past few pandemic years have been scary and disorienting. For teens in a hunkered-down society, it’s also meant losing opportunities to develop independence.
“What our teens need in this moment is support for finding their voice and finding their autonomy. Then we’ll slowly see the pain and fear untangle,” says Michelle Shapiro-Abraham, an award-winning teen educator and director of strategic innovation and youth programs at the Union for Reform Judaism.
She points to two new resources that are committed to lifting up teen voices and showing them that they can “claim their power.”
Salt & Honey: Jewish Teens on Feminism, Creativity, & Tradition is an anthology of essays, poetry, and visual art by teens from jGirls Magazine. The themes of the 78 vibrant pieces are universal, touching on childhood, spirituality, sexuality, race, family, friends, and the world around us. Shapiro-Abraham wrote a discussion guide that’s included in the book.
Dreaming Bigger: Jewish Leadership for Teens by Dr. Erica Brown and Rabbi Benji Levy is the brand-new actionable guide for Jewish teens who want to make a difference in the world. Harnessing teens’ idealism and energy, the book is organized into three sections: Leading yourself, leading others, and leading in community.
“What’s powerful about the two books together is that they’re committed to showing that teen voices are valued and what it means to be heard,” Shapiro-Abraham says.
She says that both books are invaluable and excellent tools for educators who work with teens – whether in youth groups, synagogues, Federation programs, or other settings.
“Salt & Honey is a great jumping off point for teens to think about their own voices, their identities,” she says.
“[It’s] raw, vibrant, and full of love,” declared Kirkus Reviews.
“It’s fairly provocative,” says Shapiro-Abraham. “But the reality is that this is where teens are. They’re talking about these issues. And as educators we need to provide them opportunities to talk about it.”
She imagines incorporating the book even into worship, by bringing in poems and writings and asking teens to think about their own voices.
Dreaming Bigger is designed for leadership training, in a practical sense. “It’s intended to lead teens through a guided process, step by step. You could sit in a room with teens and ask them what area they want to lead in and use the book as a guide.”
Teens have passion and heart are looking to make a difference, yet they don’t have the skills. Dreaming Bigger provides lots of different strategies to support teens as they explore leadership and offers a clear way for them to actualize their power.
There are so many ways educators and youth directors can use these books, says Shapiro-Abraham/ “I’m really excited to see these books and hope educators use them with teens to show them that people are listening to them, investing in them, and in turn, that helps teens feel more positive in the world.”
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