by Betsy MacDonald
Last month I turned thirty. By some measures this means that I can no longer be considered a “youth.” Although in many ways I still feel young, I am aware that there is a big difference between being thirty and being thirteen.
Now, for instance, I have a pretty good sense of who I am. I am a mother, a musician and a community development worker. I am committed to social justice and gender equality. I have a pretty good sense of my strengths and flaws.
Recently I have been fortunate enough to start working with youth through the Antigonish Women’s Resource Centre and Sexual Assault Services Association. I say “fortunate” because although it’s challenging and sometimes downright difficult work, it is rewarding to be part of a movement that is bringing about positive change.
The changes I’m seeing as a result of the Healthy Relationships for Youth program are intangible yet real: Grade 9 students are acquiring skills and knowledge that are crucial in preventing relationship violence, and the students educating them are becoming leaders in their schools and communities. Teachers are noticing more respectful and tolerant school environments.
There are times when I lose sight of the purpose, the “why” of this work. During those times I try to remember myself as a thirteen-year-old girl starting Grade 9 in Antigonish. Although up to that point I had been a pretty keen student, something happened – puberty, changes in my social and learning environment – that destabilized my core sense of OK-ness in the world.
In my circle of peers I felt extremely insecure. To prove I was cool and make them like me, I tried all kinds of things that put my health and safety at risk. Looking back, it’s a wonder that the drugs, alcohol and sexual experimentation of those days (sorry Mom and Dad!) didn’t have a more severe impact on me in the long term.
But I was one of the lucky ones. I found activities that breathed life into me such as the high school band and monthly Fine Arts Showcases. I surrounded myself with friends who nurtured and celebrated my creative and intellectual abilities.
Back then we didn’t have anything like the Healthy Relationships for Youth program. I was lucky, however, to have peers and adult mentors who were a constant positive influence in my life. Imagine if every youth had this support. Imagine if it were built into the structure of the school curriculum. What would it be like if each student were equipped with the tools to navigate those difficult teenage years?
I look back at my thirteen-year-old self with her short wavy hair, baggy pants, rebellious attitude and bright spirit and I think: I’m doing this for you.
Now I have another major motivation for investing in the well-being of youth. My two-year-old daughter is a loving, curious and inspired human being, and I want her world to reflect those qualities.
What’s your motivation?