Advocacy and Activism as a Teenager

Written By: Kendall Lynch, Empower RVA Teen

Navigating life as a teenager can be hard. Figuring out how to balance school, extracurriculars, and relationships is one of the most stressful parts of being a teenager today. Most parents and/or adults in your life will have great advice on dealing with school and extracurricular activities, but often, teens are left in the dark on how to create and maintain healthy relationships. Then, when they find themselves in an unhealthy relationship, many teens don’t know how to get out of it. Our group, Empower RVA Teens, has worked to address this issue within the Greater Richmond community. Through an eight-week training program and five months of learning, I have been certified as a “peer facilitator” – someone who can talk to their peers about teen dating violence prevention and healthy relationships. Getting a foundation of this knowledge as a teenager is absolutely imperative. What we learn now about what a healthy relationship is and looks like will affect the way we view and form relationships as adults. Learning what red flags may pop up in an unhealthy relationship and what our personal needs, wants, and deal breakers are can help prevent us from falling into an unhealthy or abusive relationship.

This February, (which is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month), Empower RVA Teens has worked hard to spread the knowledge we’ve gained as facilitators to our peers at school. Personally, I, along with one other teen in the group, made a banner that students and teachers could sign as a pledge to end teen dating violence. We set up at a table at lunch, and with the help of candy and the fearless leader of “Empower RVA Teens,” Rachael Kaufman, we were able to get over 100 signatures and provide hotline and informational resources to many students. Reaching even a small percentage of the kids at my school could translate into life-changing awareness. Many of the students may not have a solid family structure or role models to show what a healthy relationship looks like. Providing this knowledge and offering a point of contact can help fill this gap and is truly the mission of our group.

Personally, I’ve always been interested in social justice issues, particularly those pertaining to women’s rights, and over the past few years, I’ve worked to find ways that I can get involved in organizations that have similar beliefs as I do. For example, I started a Girl Up Club at my school last year; its mission is to provide education to girls in developing countries. Last summer, I was able to lobby on Capitol Hill for Girl Up legislation at the annual Leadership Summit. This was my first advocacy experience, and since then, I’ve been able to lobby with the YWCA Richmond at both a state and federal level. At the Virginia General Assembly, our focus was advocating for the addition of consent into family life curriculum in public schools, and at the Capitol, we were fighting for continued funding for the YWCA and similar organizations.

For teens that want to get more involved in issues they care about, I recommend doing what I did…

  1. Think about what’s really important to you
  2. Seek out others who have the same beliefs and goals
  3. Learn from your peers and leaders on a local and national scale about how they create and enact change.
  4. Feel empowered to speak about issues you care about and lead others in doing the same

Through my involvement in Empower RVA Teens, Girl Up, and similar organizations, I’ve learned that although advocating for social justice issues can be draining, it truly is of the utmost importance. There is so much in this world that I want to change, and starting as a teenager has inspired me to work hard every day to make a visible difference in my local and global community.

Kendall Lynch is a junior in the Humanities Center at Hermitage High School. She is president of Girl Up, secretary of Model United Nations, and runs cross country and track. Some of her passions include women’s rights, American history, and playing guitar. Kendall hopes to attend the College of William and Mary in 2019 on a pre-med track.