The rebellion in young people is not a crime. On the contrary: it is the fire of the soul that refuses to conform, that is dissatisfied with the status quo, that cries out that it wants to change the world and is frustrated with not knowing how.
— The Rebbe
In the 1950’s, the Rebbe recognized that there was a prevailing ignorance among young people in many parts of this country. He established the Lubavitch Youth Organization, with chapters around the world, encouraging his students to share spiritual literature and other tools of education with the youth of other communities.
In 1961, President John F. Kennedy initiated the Peace Corps, calling on young American men and women to go and help educate and develop underprivileged countries. The President was convinced there would be hundreds of volunteers; there were, of course, far more. The call of the President echoed the call of the Rebbe: that young people should recognize what a powerful fire is burning within themselves, and should be encouraged to use that fire for the good.
What is the power of the teenage years?
A young person is like fire. With direction and guidance, he or she can change the very shape of the world. Without direction, the fires of youth are wasted at best, while at worst, they can become a dangerous, destructive force. To lead a meaningful life means harnessing the fires of youth; but first we must understand the purpose of youth itself.
The period of adolescence is nestled between childhood and adulthood. Teenagers are no longer content to play like children but don’t yet have the knowledge and experience to be fully engaged in adult pursuits. Youth is one of the most precious periods of a person’s life, and yet one of the most difficult.
What most young people are searching for is a meaningful cause.They are overflowing with a mixture of adrenaline and confidence — “I want to change the way the world works,” teenagers often think. “I can change the world.” Adults, burdened with the pressures of everyday life, convince themselves that the world just is the way it is, but young people cannot tolerate such resignation. This is the constant conflict between the two groups: young people abhor the status quo, while adults’ lives revolve around it.
Many adults simply write off the teenage years as a rebellious period that a person must simply outlast. Young people, meanwhile, often think that adults have forgotten how to appreciate the very meaning and thrill of life. Youths are rebellious, and adults see the rebellion as one step shy of a crime.
But rebellion is not the crime; the crime occurs when the rebellion has no healthy outlet. Rebellion, in fact, can be the healthiest thing for a human being — a pure energy that inspires a person to not give up easily, to refuse to tolerate injustice, to not go along with an idea just because everyone else is thinking it. The worst thing we can do with a young person’s spiritual or psychological energy is to bottle it up; in fact, we must do everything we can to tap this energy, to focus it, and channel it properly.
How is a teenager’s energy best channeled?
To satisfy the needs of our teenagers in today’s society, we must first recognize that their restlessness and hunger for meaning is not material but spiritual in nature, and that only spirituality can feed spiritual hunger.
To fight a spiritual war, they must be equipped with spiritual weapons. No matter how far a young person has wandered, he has a soul and a distinct mission from G-d. This is the first lesson that young people must learn — that their lives include a higher purpose, that they must use their youthful energy for good and moral purposes.
The fire of youth must be used not just to build careers but to build homes and communities based on love and giving. It is the responsibility of adults to provide young people with a blueprint, a spiritual guide to life — which consists of G-d’s word and His instructions of how to best lead a meaningful life
So we must say to our young men and women: “You are as alive as fire. If you complement your flame of youth with a sense of focus and urgency, you have the power to move worlds.”
It is critical that you find someone who you can talk to, a mentor to trust, who will appreciate your strengths and potential and can help motivate you to achieve your dreams.
We all must sit down calmly with our families, with our young people, and talk about our lives and aspirations.
For such communication to be effective, it must be sincere and it must be regular; it cannot surface only in times of crisis. Instead of only relaxing all weekend, designate an hour or two just to speak or take a walk together. Talk about values, about the difficult decisions that any young person must face. Talk about G-d, about morality, about how pure intellect is limited unless it is supported by a system of higher values. Talk about charity, about selflessness, about why we are here and where we are headed.
Should we extinguish the fires of youth because of their potency? Never! We should constantly encourage our young people: “You are our hope, our most precious natural resource.”