I am not afraid of an army of lions led by a sheep; I am afraid of an army of sheep led by a lion.
– Alexander the Great
I am not calling tweens sheep… entirely. But I like this quote because it does bring to mind the idea that when someone gains a lot of attention, whether someone in their school or a celebrity, there is suddenly a mass following of that person. For better or worse, they are looked at as leaders.
The term leadership continues to be a buzzword for just about everyone. Most schools include leadership among the qualities they try to develop in their students, and all kinds of extracurricular activities aim to produce leaders now and in the future. But what does leadership really mean to tweens? Who do they consider leaders and why? We can’t expect them to become leaders if we aren’t even sure what this means to them.
The first thing to know is that for tweens, leaders are not usually global figures or Hollywood celebrities. People in high-level positions who have done significant, heroic, or momentous things seems quite out of reach for most of us, and today’s kids often look more to the cyberworld to find their leaders. These are reality stars, YouTube stars, or simply people with huge followings on social media platforms. I’ll give you a second to shudder as you recall what you’ve seen trending lately among the people your tween follows.
If you can have ongoing conversations about leadership with your tween, you can help to inform their idea of what a true leader is, and guide them to this role using the values important to your family. One way to start is by thinking of this: True leaders are best judged by how they affect those closest to them. Show them that someone can have a million Twitter followers, but if they have not positively influenced those closest to them, they are simply famous, not necessarily a leader. Tweens have a tendency to focus on what post might garner the most ‘likes,’ and therefore they tend to see the people whose posts have a lot of likes as leaders. Encourage them to view others in terms of what they do that makes the lives of those around them better before looking at their reach across the internet.
A man who wants to lead the orchestra must turn his back on the crowd.
– Max Lucado
I was just talking to a friend who has a seventh grade son; she was telling me that there was a debate during one of his classes. Apparently the debate went poorly when her son was the only one who had an opinion that differed from his classmates and the teacher. The teacher did a poor job of managing the class, and this boy was chastised by everyone – including the teacher. He was left feeling angry, embarrassed, and hurt that he asserted and maintained his view and was not supported. Just before the end of the day, he opened up his locker and there was a note from a classmate. It said “I think you are so awesome for standing up for your beliefs, you’re my hero today!” I’m sure you can imagine that this changed everything for him. All he could think about, and all he could tell his parents, was how this one message made him proud of how he’d behaved in class. And even though the girl had not made a loud, public gesture, her kindness showed exactly what we’re talking about – viewing leadership as what one does to make the lives around them better.
True leadership does not just appear. It is shaped, guided, practiced, probably failed a time or two, and always evolving. You can help by defining what leadership means to you and your family, discussing the leadership qualities (or lack thereof) of the people your tween sees, and celebrating even the smallest examples of leadership efforts that they show throughout their day. There are some amazing people out there, and they started out looking a lot like your kids!