It's tough to be a teenager these days.

Opportunity to Thrive

They are growing up in an environment where the digital tsunami is overwhelming, and, as you think about the pre-teen and teenage years, it's hard for them not to be self-absorbed.

You can't really see beyond yourself.

I certainly didn't.

At the age of 15, I did not have a clearly defined path for my future or career, and it was plenty hard to see beyond my own needs.

Despite the inherent self interest in teens, current data suggest that students in the later teen years have a higher propensity to give back and volunteer. Unfortunately, many teens can get frustrated when they do not find easy ways to plug in.

Finding a place to grow or impact or volunteer is not a problem at the Y, that's for sure!

That's why I love Maya's story.

She calls the Y a "second home," and she says Teen Thrive provides her a chance to represent herself as a leader, role model and "show what teenagers can actually be like."

Look at the trajectory of Maya's Y experience and the opportunity she sees to learn about resumes, be a lifeguard and work with children as a counselor.

What road is that paving for Maya?

The breadth of experience Maya is getting through Teen Thrive is providing that clarity. And whether those are jobs she takes on or not, the seed that is planted to make the world a better place and to serve others is what matters.

Becca Fink, senior program director at the Y, often says the key is to give youth a voice and a choice.

We're reading many stories and studies about tweens and teens who have less than what they might need in how they can communicate their ideas.

This program allows a bridge, of sorts.

What Teen Thrive does is to put youth less at the center of their world and more as a part of the big picture. Through Teen Thrive, the Y takes all the diverse programs that we offer and tie them into more of a continuum. Maybe a teen starts in a leaders club, and they get introduced to a small group of like-minded leaders from diverse in backgrounds. Then you layer on top of that an immersion experience.

It's an opportunity to have a more holistic and lasting impact on kids by  developing leadership abilities and sensibilities, building their consciousness within their community and teaching them how to be socially responsible.

That means finding mentors through the program and building courage and character through other relationships, interacting with adults, face-to-face, eye-to-eye, not shoulder-to-shoulder texting them.

The traditional education system still hasn't come far enough in engaging kids in web development, programming and analyzing data. Some public systems are far along while others are just starting down that track. But, over time, there must also be an emphasis on character, and the Y represents such a great platform, regardless of where the child is in their development, to be a better leader and focus externally on their community.

I'm so proud of Becca and her team, that they have pioneered the Teen Thrive Program. I have no doubt that this program will be adopted in many shapes and forms by other Ys and other youth serving organizations.

Consider the wisdom of Luca, a Youth Thrive award recipient I had the good fortune to meet.

"I just like helping people," he says, "and having fun doing it." In a vitriolic, all too hate-filled world, how refreshing is that?