‘Slacktivism’ isn’t true of all teens

Metro Creative Graphics illustration

By Sam Lowe
Times-News correspondent
teens20@thetimesnews.com

   The rise of social media has seen the birth of an embarrassing new form of involvement — slacktivism. This portmanteau word is used to describe the “activism” many argue they are carrying out behind their computer screens. With the prevalence of this form of IN-activity, it’s easy to see why a significant portion of adults tend to view my generation as less than enthusiastic about making a difference in their communities.
Dawn Sternal, executive director for Christmas Cheer of Alamance County, said she believes this simply isn’t the case.    When Sternal became executive director 27 years ago, “there were less teens and young adults volunteering … or even inquiring about opportunities. Since then, I have had more teens and young adults involved in Christmas Cheer.”
Audrey Moorefield, a math teacher at Western Alamance High School and supervisor for volunteerism-heavy organizations such as Junior Civitans and National Honors Society, said she agreed that overall this generation is active, but that it tends to be a specific subset of teens that are.
“The students that I observe who tend to volunteer in the community are more likely to be college-bound students with a supportive family background, and often are enrolled in the Honors and AP level courses. I think the students who are motivated to volunteer have a genuine desire to help make the world a better place.”
She does concede that there may be extrinsic motivation.
“Some students view volunteerism as a means of bolstering their resumes for college.”
Carrie Moore, Western Alamance High School’s student counseling department chair, said she thinks that colleges do look for active community members.
“Colleges love to see that students are involved in volunteer efforts. This makes a more holistic student and these students are more likely to have rich experiences that they can share with their peers. Students who volunteer often learn teamwork and leadership skills, which are very important to colleges and scholarship organizations.”
This kind of outside reinforcement doesn’t negate the positive benefits of these teens’ efforts.
“I do believe that even those students who volunteer just for the sake of improving their resumes can and do benefit from the volunteer work.
They can see the direct benefit of their work and might be inspired to help further or in new ways,” Moorefield said.
“Students learn social skills, job skills, and broaden their worldview,” Moore agreed.
Some students, though, have a broader worldview than just a college application.
Madison Kimrey, a Burlington native who is highly active in the political world, has her own reasons for involvement.
“I believe young people are the future. We will lead someday and we need to start now to build the kind of future that we want. There are issues that impact young people right now that we can focus on right now. That’s our responsibility as citizens.
“I think who I am as a person is what influenced my activism. I think activism has strengthened my personal values as I get to see so many ordinary people making a difference and they inspire me to keep working and to continue growing and learning.”
Madison said she also believes that the level of teen involvement needs to keep increasing.
To teens looking for ways to be active, she has this to say: “There are so many ways to be active. You have to look around and think about how you can use your talents and abilities to make a difference. Even if you only make a difference to one person, you have improved your community.
“Going forward, as a community and as a society, we have to find new ways to get teens involved, and we should make the push to motivate them intrinsically, not extrinsically.

 Sam Lowe is a junior at Western Alamance High School and a Teens & Twenties writer.

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