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Strong Youth in a Confusing World

June 9, 2020

By Jackson Hudecki, Special Programs Coordinator, Royal Botanical Gardens

It has been 5 years since RBG’s Young Environmental Science (YES) Alliance started. This club for teens brings me a great sense of fulfilment. Not only do I get to exist in nature with some of the brightest and most thoughtful young humans alive, I get to help usher eco-minded young adults towards a world of nurturing nature.

The goals of the YES Alliance are to: explore nature and gain hands-on experience conducting fieldwork; introduce experts in the environmental sector; and hopefully guide them towards post-secondary education (and thus career) working with and for Mother Nature. And it has worked! There are many past members who have started or are midway through their studies in engineering, forestry, environmental sciences, fish and wildlife, and Indigenous studies. Over 60 youth have participated so far. We meet every few weeks for a few hours. This amounts to spending over 200 hours with these youth which has broadened my perspectives on “reckless teens” (as they’ve been called by adults).

YES alliance standing on frozen cootes paradise

For the 2020/2021 YES crew, COVID-19 has derailed a lot of their intentions, whether in education or otherwise. During an e-meeting recently, I asked what this virus has done for their momentum. Some call it a blessing allowing for strict focus. For others, it’s a curse that has thwarted steps towards adulthood. Some reorganize or learn new skills (one young woman completed an Intro to Neurology course by Harvard University “just for fun”). Others embrace “hermit time” and catch-up with old books, friends, and family. The hardest hit are those reaching milestones. Youth who have spent most of their lives in camps, courses, schools, or programs that are in their final year, are told there will be no ceremony, graduation, prom, finale, or goodbye. To me, that sounds excruciating. Yet some are being told “buck up”, “don’t worry”, or “there will be other dances” by adults they look up to.

For that, they have a message. Let their feelings be recognized. Allow space for big emotions. Feelings of failure, grief, loss, sadness, resentment, or even anger at not being able to feel acknowledged or celebrated are totally normal. While these are stressful times, these emotions are required in growth and exactly what people need to share and to live.

YES alliance tree planting group

If you are reading this and have a teen in your life, ask them to talk with you when they’re ready. Give time and space to listen. Ask questions before interjecting with your own opinions. We often take too much of a ‘fixer’ role , when in most cases we just need to be a ‘listener’. An ear hears farther when the mouth remains closed, so be kind and patient. And for goodness sake, if you can hug someone in your house, go give them one right now!

All we can be is our true selves, and while teens are still trying to figure out what that means, we can standby and support as they figure it out for themselves. Their strength and determination will be needed once the dust settles on COVID-19, for the future is not ours, but theirs.

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