What Five-Year-Olds and Teenagers Have in Common

Twenty. Nineteen. Eighteen…

Every morning, my son Sawyer reminds the whole family how many days are left before he turns five. Yesterday, on day 15, Sawyer flashed his best 1,000 Kilowatt smile and announced what he wanted for his birthday: one Lightning McQueen race car, four other race cars from the Cars franchise, and one tank.

Sawyer couldn’t know it, but his request was actually pretty modest; I could buy all those toys for under $30.  But I looked around the living room and saw the hundreds of toys that Sawyer already had – toys he never played with. So I made a reasonable request: we would buy him his birthday toys, but we had to give away some of his old toys.

In the classic book, The Hobbit, the dragon Smaug sleeps on a massive treasure of jewels, emeralds, and gold. There is so much treasure that Smaug cannot play with it or admire it.  But when a thief (the Hobbit) steals just one jewel, the fury of the dragon is awakened as if he had lost his entire treasure.

I didn’t realize that my simple request would awaken Sawyer the Dragon’s wrath; suddenly even toys he hadn’t played with since he was two became precious.

I tried a different technique. I told Sawyer that there was a kid named Mike who didn’t have any toys, and if Sawyer shared just three toys, Mike could have toys for the first time in his life.

Lips quivered. Before I knew it, my son was bawling, and pulling toys out of his box. Next, he wanted us to immediately go to Mike’s house to drop off the toys. I felt bad on multiple levels – my intention was not to make my son cry; and now I had to explain that we couldn’t go to Mike’s house.Blog_body_mawi

Sawyer’s shift made me think of my experience working with teenagers over the last 13 years. Conventional wisdom and the media tell us that teenagers are often apathetic and self-centered. But like my son, Sawyer, our teens just need a compelling vision of how they can change the world.

For example, students in our FLVS Leadership Skills Development course have led more than 1,000 service projects, where they’ve helped kids like “Mike,” provided clothing to homeless people, volunteered at cancer hospitals, and made life better for Floridians in every county.

The most high-impact projects come from the heart – when teens, in a manner very similar to Sawyer, empathize with the real needs of their community and take inspired action.

View examples of FLVS student service projects here.

Post by: Mawi Asgedom, Founder of Mawi Learning

Mawi Asgedom has inspired more than 1 million students and educators in 40 states with his uplifting speeches and has written eight bestselling books that are read in thousands of classrooms. A former refugee from Ethiopia, Mawi is the founder of Mental Karate, a leadership system used across North America. Mawi Learning, a leadership training company that has worked with more than 1,000 schools across the world, partners with FLVS to help students succeed in high school, college, and beyond through our Leadership Skills Development course.


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