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Is Your Teenager Woke? And What Does “Get Woke” Mean, Anyway?

By Ruth Lambert

Woke is a new buzz word, defined as “aware of and actively attentive to important facts and issues—especially issues of racial and social justice.”  It is the opposite of uninformed, or cynical, or super sure you know it all. It is also the opposite of “bored.”

As parents of teenagers, who are the next generation of leaders, we have a moral obligation to consider the problems and concerns of our time in the world and take a stand. We need our teens to become active participants, not passive observers, when it comes to challenging injustice and racism in our communities. That’s what getting WOKE is all about.

Get Woke

So how do you go about getting your teen to get more involved? Here are six ways parents can encourage their teens to help get WOKE, and stay there.

Get involved. Help your teen find out how he or she can personally make a difference to the acceptance and inclusion of so-called “others” in your environment. Most high schools have LGBTQ clubs these days that encourage “straight allies.” Participating as a supporter for a marginalized or bullied group is challenging but can also be very rewarding.

Volunteer. Many towns and cities operate soup kitchens, often supported by local religious organizations, which offer free hot meals to the homeless, hungry, and poor. They usually welcome volunteers for a single meal, or on a regular basis. Each Thanksgiving morning, my great-nephews and their dad work at a soup kitchen in downtown Philadelphia. It’s now one of the family’s special traditions. They serve their own Thanksgiving meal late in the afternoon, and it tastes twice as good after their service to their community.

Ideas for Teens Interested In Social Justice

Tutoring. Many elementary schools have after school tutoring programs staffed by interested high-schoolers and college students. These programs focus primarily on fostering reading and math skills and help kids from diverse backgrounds achieve academically.

Expand horizons. Starting from your teen’s own interests is another way to get and stay WOKE. Has your son always been interested in the stars? What about working with astronomers in your community’s planetarium? Or taking an extension course at a local community college on astronomy? Does your daughter like working with plants? There are community gardens in almost every urban area that need regular helpers to weed, water, harvest, and celebrate. Do your teens love the outdoors? Consider joining  programs that encourage inner city residents to find and enjoy hiking and camping.

What are Your Issues?

Get political. Has your teen expressed a strong interest about an issue, whether it is reproductive access or fracking or gun control? This is an ideal way to get your teen off of playing video games and accomplishing something of real value. Help your teen research the groups in your area who are addressing your concerns, and connect them with your teen.

Get creative. Perhaps your tween daughter has a great singing voice, and a few friends who also love to sing. There are many senior centers and hospitals that love to have volunteer entertainers. Some kids like to sew and make special blankets for a children’s hospital. Get those creative juices flowing for a good cause.

All of these activities are great so-called “resume builders” that will enhance any application for college or a paying job. But your tween/teen will find that getting involved changes them in ways they never imagined. Our world gets exponentially bigger when the younger generation stretches themselves to reach out, be more inclusive, recognize that differences can enrich experiences, and…get WOKE!

Ruth Lambert

Ruth Lambert is a family and parenting expert, and the author of the newly published book 101 Survival Tactics For New And Used Parents by New Collegiate Publishing. Ruth has an MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard.