• Akila Venkatesh

Get empowered this summer!

Updated: Jul 21

A free weekly summer guide to empowerment skills for young people

As a result of COVID-19, you've been thrown into the battlefield and forced into superhero mode; working, parenting and teaching your children, in addition to managing the multitude of other mental, emotional and physical daily challenges, all of which just begin to scratch the surface. Well, superheroes need help too. That's what this summer guide is here to provide. My hope is that this guide will provide some structure to help empower young people away from mindless screens and into proactive discovery. The guide is outlined in this post, and I've created a free PDF workbook for your child to write directly into, which you can get simply by signing up to our email list here (the free guide will be offered only during the month of July 2020). In addition to this post, each week, I will post a brief write-up with thoughtful background information for parents, for that week's activity, so you can guide your child along in an age-appropriate manner.

The big vision for In Good Hands is to empower peace and justice across generations. Empowerment is essentially a process of relating to unequal power dynamics on micro and macro levels, in ways that shift them towards more equity for all. The topic is complex but there are many life skills which are foundational to developing empowerment, and those introductory skills will be covered in this summer program. These foundational skills, such as how to speak up and use your voice for what matters, are indeed powerful and enduring but are often not explicitly taught (which is a shame because they are some of the most important life skills). Research has shown that by explicitly teaching or 'scaffolding' life skills (an educational term that means to systematically guide), such concepts are more intrinsically honed. As your child uses this guide, you will likely enjoy practicing these skills alongside them.

This summer guide (or July-August guide for those in different time zones and seasons), provides a weekly empowerment skill or challenge to focus on, through 1 simple weekly task. The task won't take long, but it provides a focus or guiding light for the week. Summer is a time for exploration and fun and contrary to the common belief that less boundaries lead to more discovery, having structure, such as focused weekly challenges, can in fact enhance the experience of growth, learning and discovery and avoid 'not knowing where the time went'. Not to mention that your child will be better prepared for the school year ahead. As a result of over 2 decades of working with young people and now studying equity and social justice in academia, I've distilled what I have come to know and experience as foundational empowerment concepts, into 9 simple but effective weekly skills. These weekly skills are just introductions to get your child's feet wet and wheels turning, but they are lifelong practices. I have taught these skills to my students and have noticed that sometimes pinpointing the simplest but most effective question, can lead to opening the door to an abundance of wide-eyed wonder. As described in this post, my students couldn't contain their curiosity when I lead the school year with this simple yet powerful question: "what are your questions about the world?". Of course, as with anything in life, what you put into it, is what you get out of it, so take these basic skills and run with them in your own way. Here are the 9 weekly E.M.P.O.W.E.R.E.D. challenges!

Week 1-->Earth care: the foundation to life on earth

Caring for our one and only earth is not an option, it's our responsibility. Although it goes without saying, most people are not awake to the fact that there is no us without our planet. We are not separate or superior to it, we are of it and it governs us with its limits, care requirements and boundaries, not the other way around.

The challenge: As we begin the summer, this week's challenge is to do 1 thing to care for the earth. Options include (but are not limited to): turning off the lights or turning up the AC by 1 degree, safely picking up garbage in your neighbourhood--(others will take note and likely follow!), eating plant-based for 2 dinners in the week, and more. Be deliberate about it, write it down in the workbook, take action, then reflect back in the relevant workbook section.

Parent-guide: click here for more background information on Earth Care

Week 2-->Mindful listening: the foundation of allyship

I often tell my students and children the common adage that we have two ears and one mouth for a reason--listening is twice as important as speaking! Truly, listening is likely the most important empowerment skill and when we become more mindful listeners, we also become better allies by listening to those who are in different circumstances than us. This is a crucial skill as we learn to listen and learn with and from marginalized communities, particularly now, as the Black Lives Matter movement brings the importance of solidarity and allyship to the forefront. There are many techniques and nuances to being a better listener, which will be covered in the week 2 blog post.

The challenge: Throughout week 2, focus on speaking less and listening more. Stay quiet when people speak to you and notice the voice in your head that may be talking while they are speaking. Notice if the voice is judging, thinking about other things, or formulating a response while the other person is speaking. Stay quiet and listen when you are outside in nature. Listen to daily sounds such as your microwave humming or the car driving by. Listen to the voice in your head that may react to messages you read online. Listen to yourself, others, and the world.

Parent-guide: click here for more background information on Mindful Listening

Week 3-->People skills: the foundations of collective leadership

Social-environmental change happens with other people for the collective good. Intentionally collaborating and working with others contributes to the empowerment process and vice versa. Creating change collectively unlocks opportunity and discovery.

The challenge: This week, your challenge is to create something, anything, with someone else, for someone else. Pick a project, make a plan, then create/build/manifest it from start to finish. Your focus is not on the ‘thing’ that you are creating but on the collective process of collaboration. Ideas include: cooking a meal from start to finish, planning a social gathering, a fundraiser or a similar event, building or crafting something, making a piece of music or art, writing a story with someone, and more. In your workbook, reflect on the strengths and challenges of the collaborative process.

Parent-guide: click here for more background information on People skills

Week 4-->Obstacles: the foundation to tackling barriers to justice

Change never comes easily and empowerment is about overcoming and problem solving barriers to injustice. It starts with how we approach challenges and how we relate to our inner fears. After all, if we can't brave our own battles, how can we brave the world's? This week's challenge is all about confronting our fears and braving life's challenges.

The challenge: Do 1 thing that scares you this week. It could be big or small. Anything goes! Example include: speaking up, doing an activity that makes you feel nervous (swimming, biking, surfing, hiking, cooking), making a phone call, applying for a job, committing to a new habit and more.

Week 5-->What Went Well and Why: gratitude as a foundation of flourishing

There is ample research to show that gratitude is a powerful practice to promote well-being. Many people even suggest that our vibrational energy shifts to a higher frequency when we intentionally practice gratitude! When we reflect on what went well in a day and why, or what we are grateful for, it literally changes our physiological state to one that is happier and more peaceful. Martin Seligman's work on flourishing documents this and provides the gratitude practice for this week.

The challenge: Write 1 thing that went well each weekday this week and why. It is great to do this before bed each night.

Week 6-->Educating ourselves: the foundation to building awareness

Equity and social-environmental justice are complex topics, which involve understanding the layers of historical oppression, power and privilege, intersectionality, unconscious bias, and more. You don't need to do a PhD in this area (I'm doing it and distilling the information here, so you don't have to!) but ongoing learning and knowledge-building is essential if we want to be change-makers.

The challenge: Think of 1 question you have about the world, 1 cause you care about, or 1 problem you want to solve and learn 3 new things about it. Read an article, a book, watch a documentary, or speak to someone you admire who can give you insights. Document your findings in the workbook. Topics may include: climate justice, racial injustice, water conservation, feminism, autism awareness, animal rights, and much, much, MUCH, more. It often helps to start with an area that relates to your own history, culture or life circumstance.

Week 7-->Revitalizing ourselves: wellness as the foundation to sustainability

If we don't take care of ourselves, we can't take care of others and play the long game. Just as caring for the earth is the foundation to all life on the planet (week 1), caring for ourselves is the foundation to having the capacity and energy to contribute to the causes we care about and create change in the world.

The challenge: Pick one of the following 5 pillars of wellness and focus on one specific way you want to improve it this week. You may be surprised at how you feel and may make a habit of it! Write your progress in your workbook.

1. Exercise/movement for physical health (ex: do 20 burpees a day, move until you sweat each day)

2. Nutritious eating for cellular health (ex: eat 2 more servings of veggies each day, cut out all sugar for the week)

3. Fresh air and sunshine (ex: get outside for 15 more minutes daily)

4. Quality sleep (ex: get to bed on time, turn off devices 1 hour before bed, wake up earlier etc. )

5. Stress reduction (ex: practice mindful deep breathing for 5 minutes daily, switch negative words to positive language, laugh hard at least once a day, etc.)

Week 8-->Evaluating: reflection and goal setting as the foundation of progress

As we approach the end of the summer and the start of a new school year, it’s important to evaluate the past couple of months and your goals going forward.

The challenge: Your task this week is to write or illustrate your top 3 highlights this summer and then set 1 SMART goal September. We’ve adapted our SMART goal acronym to take on an empowered approach. The A is for actionable. You must be able to take a defined action that advances your goal. ‘R’ is for risky over realistic. As with ‘Overcoming Obstacles’, this is where you want to do something that pushes you to grow. The In Good Hands community likes to take risks and dream big! More details will follow in the week 8 blog post. Write down your goals in your workbook and you'll be ahead of the game for September!

Week 9 (bonus week!)-->good Deeds: Kindness as the foundation of our humanity

An important understanding in social justice work is that kindness alone or a 'be kind to everyone' approach is not enough to change systemic barriers. This is a complex topic and will be covered more in the week 9 post. However, kindness does have an important role. It is a foundation to connecting to our loving nature as human beings and our ability to relate to one another and acknowledge our shared humanity. Not to mention, we feel great when we are kind to others too.

The challenge: Do 3 random acts of kindness this week and don’t tell anyone what you did. Often, sharing our acts of kindness, especially when it comes to charitable donations, actually helps inspire others to take action. However, in our age of social media and constant attention seeking and extrinsic validation, many young people are addicted to getting the external affirmation of 'likes' from their social media friends and followers. Let's practice inner integrity and true human connection by being kind just because. The reward is your own sense of empowerment from doing a good deed. This is a great way to start the school year--you'll be sure to have an open heart and a little extra bounce in your step.

I hope you'll join in on this weekly empowerment challenge! It's certainly not just for young people--adults of all ages can do it too. Please comment below or contact me and let me know how it goes. In Good Hands is a new community, so your participation and feedback goes a long way! I'd love to hear from you. Tag me on social media with the #IGHsummerchallenge :)

#IGHsummerchallenge #empowerment #parenting #summer

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