Posted by Michael Milston on May 15, 2017
This is Rotary monthly focus is Youth.
Rotarians should be proud of the great work done both locally and internationally by Rotarians across the district and the world. This Conversation provides some background to why youth brain-maturation is important, how Rotary is providing solid programs to meet youth needs and grow stronger youth and future leaders, and examples of how our local experiences demonstrates the importance of fostering our Youth.
In response to the question: Why Are Teen Brains Designed for Risk-taking? Psychologist Nina S. Mounts, PhD sums up in her paper "So we have changes in the brain during early adolescence that make teens more focused on the rewards of peers and being included in peer activities. This increased focus on peers occurs during a time when the prefrontal cortex brain areas (which a) help people cope with negative evaluation from peers; and b) are responsible for mature self-regulation and develop gradually over the adolescence period) is not yet ready to assist in mature self-regulation. These factors provide a “perfect storm” of opportunities for risky behavior."
I sometimes think that our tendency towards risky behaviour in this stage of life is also important for developing our learnt responses. But clearly, risky behaviour can be dangerous and we all know of the tragedy of teen injuries and death.
What can parents / adults do?
Dr Mounts provides four responses:
  1. For younger adolescents, parent(s) might design the environment to provide safe activities that focus on young teens’ need for sensation-seeking. For example, adult-supervised outdoor activities with peers, such as rock climbing and zip-lining, can provide a great context for providing the excitement and social relationships needed for young teens.
  2. Supervising teens’ interactions with peers and providing rules for peer interactions can limit opportunities for risky behavior.
  3. Parents also should know and enforce graduated driving laws. Very often these laws limit the number of peers that are allowed in a vehicle when teens are driving.
  4. For older adolescents, parents can consult with teens about peers. Consulting can build on teens’ growing ability to self-regulate and encourage them to identify and develop strategies for navigating peer situations where risky activity is likely to occur.
Interestingly, and no doubt not by chance, Rotary has developed and successfully run programs targetting these areas of youth risk development:
  • 1 and 2 - For younger adolescents the Rotary Youth Program of Enrichment (RYPEN) provides great opportunities for our young future leaders to focus their understanding of peers, manage peers interactions ans safely undertake sensation-seeking activities.
  • 3 - Our Rotary Youth Driver Awareness roadside education program has developed an excellent program to help teens understand the consequences of their driving techniques.
  • 4 - The Rotary Youth Exchange, the various science, citizenship, agriculture and environmental programs, Rotary Peace Fellowships, and the Rotary Youth Leadership Award (RYLA) are all part of the suite of programs aimed to build on teens’ growing ability to self-regulate and encourage them to identify and develop strategies for navigating peer situations where risky activity is likely to occur. Rotaract is the next step engaging young adults in self-generated and organised activity to serve humanity and make a difference.
Rotary’s programs are soundly based on current scientific findings relating to the development of young people. Our focus on developing the next generation of leaders, working to make the world a better place, and peace a priority, is one important we can make a difference in our community through Rotary.
The recent experiences of our own District young people were explored during the recent DisCon17.
Those moving stories about young people being resilient, about insight into the struggle of our Wiradjuri elders and youth, about meeting the challenges of living away from home, attending science forums, experiencing other cultures, and poverty. Those of us whose Club has sponsored a RYLArian will know how the event makes such long lasting impact on the youth participants, building leadership skills like learning to listen, building trust, upskilling in public speaking, time management, meeting new people, serving the community and so on.
One RYLArian recently wrote:
“My RYLA experience was amazing, everyday since the camp I have reflected on different parts and it hasn't stopped inspiring me to achieve my dreams, the support of leaders and the fantastic group of young people was inspiring in itself. I would recommend RYLA to anyone hands down.”
Our focus, in many communities, on the Driver Awareness plays an important role in the most lethal of youth activities. This year we had the 20,000th student participate across the District! this is a marvellous achievement and I am certain has contributed to the improved safer driving of our youth. Of course there is more to do, and we will continue to do so, to work towards meeting the needs.
And of course within our communities we also provide specialised support for youth - be it through support for cultural programs, sporting equipment, music tuition and equipment, literacy, employment activity, tutoring, mentoring, providing scholarships, undertaking special 'service above self' activities, developing cultural exchanges overseas, team building and service adventures ('Real Schoolies', etc), and so on.
And finally, many current Rotarians in our clubs were once younger, and therefore it is our duty to ensure that our current younger generations experience the support and value our youth programs offer, all the time sowing the seed of encouragement that they too, one day, can contribute by becoming a Rotarian and Serving Humanity.