Project Rockit is Australia’s youth-driven movement against bullying, hate and prejudice, and is led by thousands of students around the country every single day. Our goal is to create safe spaces where young people can build on their strengths, develop resilience and stand up for what they believe in. Everything I’ve learnt about cultivating courage has been taught to me by the hundreds of thousands of young people we’ve met along the way. It’s their ideas I want to share with you.
Know what you stand for
We regularly hear from students that they’re expected to stand up for everything. The reality is, we are not going to be driven to feel passionate about all the issues in the world. Instead, we need to help young people examine what it is they care about and what their vision for change is. Teenagers displaying emotion can sometimes be crisis-inducing for adults. But it’s these primitive reactions that provide the greatest clues for what matters most to them. Let’s get young people tuning into these emotions by asking them, “What makes you mad, sad or glad?” I used to be frightened by my surges of anger, but now I proudly harness them as the driving force behind my determination to create positive change. Now, it’s apathy in the world that terrifies me.
Be honest about the risks
“I’m not strong enough.” “People will judge me.” “I’ll be targeted.” These are the most common reasons we hear as to why young people don’t stand up for what they care about. All of it comes down to that slippery, sly thing called fear. There is a misconception that if we talk about our fears then young people will be deterred. But how can we make constructive, well-intentioned action if we haven’t properly considered the risks? We need young people to consider all the potential outcomes of their actions, and understand the difference between real fears and self-made ones.
Often I hear: “Adults want us to be resilient but how do we learn to bounce back if we’re not allowed to stuff up?” When it comes to courage, resilience is its BFF. This is especially important when we examine the digital world. We know that historically, young people have developed resilience by failing. But for so many adults, the digital space is wrapped up in so much fear and apprehension that young people don’t have room to fall. Failure is essential in helping us build character, learn about our strengths, our limitations and most importantly, practice standing up. Young people are wired for this growth: they’re really, really good at it. In my imagination, courage is like this internal bootcamp for discovering our own strengths. Digging deep and discovering stuff we didn’t even know we could do. But with each failure and each victory, it creates muscle memory for next time.
Listen and learn
We need to listen and learn from exciting and inspiring young people who demonstrate to us adults exactly how to cultivate courage: the up-standers, the allies, the activists holding governments accountable, the downtrodden who rise in the face of adversity, those calling out hate and inequality, those embracing vulnerability, and the young people demanding justice and building a better, kinder world.