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Hey, I’m Chris Tompkins, and welcome to the Shaping Our World podcast. My goal is to invite you into a conversation that will leave you more confident in understanding and inspiring the young people in your life. Each episode, we talk with leading experts and offer relevant resources to dive deeper into the world of our youth today. I’ve been fortunate enough to have sat through three seasons of conversations with some of the most insightful and helpful experts. All of these interviews have given our listeners and myself new perspectives or maybe reinforced ideas or practices that have been proven over time, and our guests have really shaped our world. I’m always taking notes and talking to my wife about the things that I’m learning, the gold, the nuggets, that actually helps me in my own parenting and the work that I do in my own life. And so not only are our guests “shaping our world,” but they’ve really been shaping my world as well. Over the past three seasons, we’ve added a whole lot of new listeners: teachers, youth workers, and parents who have found these conversations encouraging and enlightening. So to wrap up Season Three, we thought we’d do a little review of all of our past three seasons: reminders for long-time listeners and introductions for the newer people to past guests or topics that maybe we haven’t heard or thought of before.
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So for this episode, I wanted to do a what I’ve learned about youth and youth culture from our conversations take on it. A quick hit of learnings that might prompt you to go back or to dive deeper into the vital topics that shape the world of our youth today. Let’s get into it. One of the things that every episode has highlighted is the conversation around what has changed for youth today. I feel like our mind probably goes to the bad stuff right away: social media, heightened expectations, pressures on kids, which did come up quite a few times. Technology and social media has definitely permeated all three seasons of the podcast in so many conversations. But as we’ll see, there are also some really positive shifts that are benefiting kids as well. What has changed for young people? Let’s take a look at the first one. It’s around technology. There’s a lot to say about the changes in technology, and we know it’s high paced, the changes are happening rapidly, and there are so many things when it comes to information, communication, and social media that has changed from when many of us were kids. With technology and its inherent problems comes the availability to kids.
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We have cell phones in our pockets. We have access to information 24-7. I think that’s such a huge topic because it really captures the zeitgeist of the time we’re parenting it. Season three guest, Tim Elmore, the leadership expert and CEO of Growing Leaders, a nonprofit organization that partners with schools and sports organizations to help nurture the next generation of leaders, talks about it in the context of kids having access to information that they can’t necessarily handle at such a young age. I think part of it is at a very, very young age, really before they’re ready, they’re exposed to information that you and I would say that’s adult level information. I just read an article that shared data on how teenagers are experiencing high anxiety over climate change or mass shootings or terrorism. I’m thinking, I think my biggest concern in middle school was, Where’s my baseball mitt and how do I find a girlfriend? That was as bad as it got. Today, they’re just anxious about climate change. I’m glad in a sense that they’re caring about the future, but I’m thinking, Oh, my, that should be not really on your mind at 13 or 14 or whatever.
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You know what I’m saying? I think one of the factors is they’re just overexposed to information so rapidly. When you think about the times we’re living in, there is a lot going on in the world. There are heavy, big things that now young people can be exposed to all the time. 24-7. When TikTok is playing, the messages are coming in. When people are searching Instagram, the messages are coming in. We are being bombarded all the time through social media with information, and kids are getting exposed to it earlier. We’ve had lots of conversations, as Tim highlighted, and other people going through talking about his parents. How do we help monitor and essentially understand what kids are being exposed to over time? I think for us to become more knowledgeable about technology to the information that we’re hearing and understanding and downloading from our social media is important for parents. How do we have open conversations about what information is permeating our kid’s minds, heads, and hearts on a regular basis? This is the new norm for our world. It’s 24-7 news coverage, information, what other people are doing in our world. Even locally, you can find on Snapchatmats where everybody is, what parties they’re going to, who people are with.
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And this information being exposed to things that really can be overwhelming for young people is a big deal. And so we need to think through as parents or youth workers, as people that care for kids, how do we come alongside of kids that are getting exposed to information at a rapid pace and sometimes a bit more than they can handle. Season two guest Dr. Aaron Watson, a therapist and speaker who specializes in the empowerment of young women and girls with an emphasis on sexuality, identity development, body image, relationships, and digital culture, is worried about the unrealistic expectations set forth by social media as it pertains to body image and identity. She had this to say on the topic. We do have to acknowledge that this is a different world. These hurdles to identity development are because that identity development is taking place mainly via these digital platforms. Digital technologies, they’re how youth are coming to know and understand and construct themselves. It’s also their main method of communication and social and self-evaluation. These are critical developmental tasks like who am I and how do I fit in this world? They’re being mediated through this lens of social comparison, unrealistic standards, and lack of transparency.
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I can’t imagine the pressures that young people have when they know what everyone else is doing and when they’re seeing these curated and edited visions of what life is like and what people look like and what they’re doing, the pressure to keep up is immense. That’s something that is definitely different than when I was younger. Technology can have a negative impact on our kids, especially when it comes to the more predatory apps. We’re going to talk more about that, about how we walk alongside our kids and help them figure this stuff in a little bit. But I want to switch gears here for a minute and talk about a positive cultural change that one guest from this season has observed amongst her students. Skye Bowen, an educator and advocate who works to address systemic racism in both the education and social justice systems by giving workshops on the topics of anti-racism, anti-oppression, and restorative justice, has witnessed the fact that kids are speaking out against the injustices they observed, a lot of it through social media and in greater numbers. Yeah, I think one of the positive things that I’ve seen that has changed a lot is that there’s a lot more advocacy.
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There’s a lot more students that want to speak up when they see things that aren’t right or when they see injustice. I think because of what they’ve been exposed to recently, more than we ever have before in terms of whether it’s gun violence or police brutality, things that they’ve been exposed to, they’re more willing to speak up. I appreciate and respect that and feel that it’s going to be pivotal in the next few years in terms of seeing how our young people are using that gift. With more information and permeated usage of social media comes the opportunity to leverage the tool and technology for good. I think it’s true, and you’ve heard it from a lot of our guests, and if you know young people in your world, you know that when they care about things, they care about them deeply. The next generation coming up, our kids and young adults, many of them are passionate about the injustices they see in the world to do with things like racism or sexism. It could be power and what that means. It could be international issues that emerge. It could be local things that just don’t feel fair and right.
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And social media gives kids an opportunity to actually find out more about what’s going on in their world and to be exposed to things that maybe they can be passionate about. Our definition of leadership at Muscocawoods, where I work, is leaders are people who look at their world and say it doesn’t have to be this way and they do something about it. And so when it comes to leadership and this idea of young people becoming more active in advocacy, I think it’s a really positive thing that young people are looking around their world. They’re saying, This doesn’t feel right. There’s something we can do about this, and they’re doing something about it. Social media, while it may have a lot of vulnerabilities, it can have some virtue. It can have some positives. Using it as a way to grow in advocacy and involvement in the world and what’s going on is just one of the positive things. And one of the things that we’re seeing in young people is gives them an opportunity to really get involved, to really make a difference. And so many of them are wanting to do that. So that’s what’s changed, highlights of what’s changed in our world.
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Social media, we’re getting way more exposed to information. Our identity for young people is often being shaped through comparison. And young people are becoming more involved and are seeing injustices and want to do something about it. Just a bit of a landscape of some of the things we’ve heard about what’s different in the lives of young people today than maybe when we were growing up. We know our kids are going through it because of the pervasiveness of social media, as we talked about, and just inherently because being a kid and trying to figure out who you are is hard sometimes. The difficulties they might be experiencing often manifest in disengagement, poor behavior, and as parents, we might be our wits end trying to deal with it, getting frustrated and handing out punishments. But a number of our guests throughout all three seasons expound on the virtues of doing the opposite and really focusing on relationships with them as a way of getting through to them in the difficult times, and as insurance that they’ll turn to us in the future in difficult times. Rather than thinking about behavior modification first, how do we think about relationships first?
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I think there are many guests that highlighted this, but in season two, Menna Watzah, President of PGC basketball, an organization that helps young players and coaches unlock their full potential and become leaders on and off the court, explains a principle that they adhere to. There’s a simple that we share with coaches at all of our coaching clinics and all of our training with coaches. It’s so easy to have your players come in after a school day and they come into the gym or onto the field or onto the rink and you immediately start practicing and you see an athlete not doing something that they’re supposed to be doing or not doing it as well as they’re supposed to be doing, or not focusing, whatever it might be, not working hard enough. And it’s so easy, as a coach, to immediately begin to correct. Our simple principle is connect before you correct. What a great line. I love that. Connect before you correct. I think it’s great for coaches. It’s great for people that work with youth. And as parents, we’re in the mix all the time. And I think because we care so deeply about our kids and we want the best for them, it’s really easy for us to fix on the corrections, the things that need to happen differently.
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We’re not saying you shouldn’t have boundaries or you shouldn’t put things in place that help kids grow healthily, safely, but where does our relationship fit in the mix of all the things that we’re doing? Do we connect before we correct? Or are we connecting consistently through time as parents as we’re there? Likewise, guest Ray Johnson has a saying that he adhered to when raising his own kids then as a youth pastor and now as leader of Bayside Church. His quote is, rules without relationship lead to rebellion. Cultivate close connection. Cultivate close connection. Every study ever is this. The closer you are to your kid, the greater your potential for impact. The problem is that Cornell University just released a study of American fathers. The average American father, this is amazing, spends 37 seconds a day communicating with his kids. That’s it. A good parenting thing is this rules without relationship lead to rebellion. I have four kids, now I’ve got grandkids. They all have an emotional bank account with me. They all have a relational bank account with me. When I spend time with them, connect with them, that’s like putting money in the bank.
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When I’ve got a discipline or do some correction, that’s like making a withdrawal. Where you get mass rebellion is when I have nothing in the bank and I’m trying to make a withdrawal. I think adding to the idea of connect before you correct, this idea of rules without relationships lead to rebellion. We can see time after time, the guests keep coming back to relationship. Similarly, Season 2 guest, Dr. Rob Meader, who’s a pediatrician with a focus on child and youth mental health, had this to say about the importance of maintaining a healthy relationship with your child. But really, you can’t make a kid tell you. You really have to set the stage and open the door and let them in. And so I think sometimes we need to first work on other aspects of our relationship if they’re not able to share with us and or they feel like they might be shut down, well, there’s maybe some other things that we need to work on in our relationship so that they feel more invited into the conversation. So whether that means spending more time together, just keep an eye on how responsive are we?
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Do I come across as being dismissive? Or do I come across as being like, Oh, it’s fine, or You’ll be fine? That’s not really a great way to have a conversation if we just constantly minimize what they’re going through. Just checking yourself and saying, What am I like as a parent or as a communicator or as someone who needs to be a listener at this time? And that’s another thing I’d say, Be a listener. Listen first. And when the time is right, then you can offer advice. But teenagers often just want to be heard, and that’s actually part of the therapy in many situations. It’s just having someone express themselves and talk about how they’re doing and where they’re struggling and where they need help. So that’s just a snapshot of three of the guests that highlighted what so many of them have said over all these conversations, the importance of relationships. That was one of the things that has really stuck out to me as a parent and as someone that works with young people, is the depth of the relationships that I have. How am I investing in helping the kids in my world, and particularly my own daughter, understand more of who she is and who she becoming, not through lecturing and advice, but through real relationship, through demonstrating care and love for who she is or who the young people are?
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And how am I investing in connecting, staying close to, understanding. We all know that there’s so much going on in adolescence, particularly with hormones and changes, and life is complicated and we so internalize things. I think for more of us, coming alongside and just listening and being present and demonstrating care can actually create trust, can create a depth of care that actually creates the ground for conversation to really form, and for things that are deep down that if you go probing for and trying to get to the bottom of, you might not get there. But as relationships are formed and deepened, those things actually come to the surface. And at the end of the day, and we know this is true for our own lives, when people care, when people have demonstrated consistently that they’re about us and who we are, and they want the best for us, and that they will sacrifice time and energy to be around us, to be with us, to be interested in the things that we’re interested in, it goes a long way. Now I want to dig into a second point that Rob brought up about building relationships with your child, and that is around listening.
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Because how do we build relationships? And so often we think it’s about conversations, and many of us are on the edge of talking a lot. And so what does it look like to really be a listener? Now, you probably listen to your child all the time or the young people in your life, but many of our guests throughout the last three seasons have underlined the importance of listening without giving advice or trying to help them, which is much more easily said than done, because I think our natural impetus as parents is to want to help or steer people in the right direction. But psychotherapists and sports performance coach Dr. Lawrence Jackson, with years of experience working with youth and professional athletes, has led him to realize the importance of simply making others feel heard, of being an intentional listener. Here’s what he had to say. Another step that’s important is to be an intentional listener. I think being an intentional listener is super important because sometimes kids may share things with us or youth may share things with us that we don’t like, that we want to comment, they want to be like, No, don’t do this.
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It’s terrible, right? But sometimes we just want… Just like anybody, we want to feel validated, we want to feel heard. I think intentional listeners, be able to hear them and validate them without comedy, but just really understanding their pain, their experiences, and just leave them where they’re at. I always tell people that empathy, you don’t have to agree with somebody to be empathetic towards them. Intentional listening, being able to hear, to validate without calming, as he said, it really helps us gain empathy and understanding. That’s really, at the end of the day, what this podcast has been about, for us to understand greater the world our kids are living in. We can have experts on the show and we can have people help us think through that and understand that. But who better to teach us about the world our young people are living in than our young people themselves? Then how will we ever really know what it’s like to be them or what they’re going through until we truly listen, truly sit down and create space and not interject our thoughts or our words or our hopes or our desires, but truly listen.
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And man, this is a hard, hard discipline. But I can tell you from my own life and from practice, if you can get to a place where you are slow to speak and quick to listen, you can gain exponential steps in deepening the relationship and better understanding where your kids are coming from, and ultimately from creating a sense of care and love that supports them as they navigate the world they’re in. Going back to technology for a minute. We’ve already talked about how it’s part of the cultural shift that’s impacting kids, but it’s so easy to look at social media and see the vulnerability. But Shaping Our World is about embracing the world our kids are living in and leveraging it for their benefit. What is the good that can come from technology? Ceo of the International Society for Technology and Education, and author of Digital for Good, Raising Kids to Thrive in an online world, Richard Collata, sheds light on how he thinks technology benefits kids by amplifying their voice. If you think about technology, can give kids a voice in a way that they never had it before. You know what? I talk about examples of young people who have solved real tough problems in the world because the technology is a bit of a megaphone and it can actually help them spread ideas that matter to them.
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They really can have a voice. They can have an impact. That isn’t only about things outside of the family. It can actually help increase engagement with our family. One of the agreements that we have with our kids is part of the norms, part of the agreements of our digital culture and our family, is that they need to help us capture family moments on their devices. I love that. Just one example of how we can use technology that is so pervasive in our world for good and for our family development. I love that idea. It’s a great example of how we can use technology and leverage what’s in our hands and accessible for the benefit of young people. And if you go back and listen, there’s a lot of great episodes around technology. And in it, we do often unpack the vulnerabilities of it and some of the negative sides, but there is often a virtue to it, and it can be used. Kids can get homework done quicker. They do have access to information and they can solve things. And so how can we not just say technology is bad? How can we, as parents, as adults that care for young people, see the virtue in it and help draw that to the surface and get our kids to engage maybe in a different way so that it can continue to be a more positive part of their lives?
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One of the other things I’ve learned is around the importance of mindset. This clip from leadership coach Karen Gordon, who we interviewed all the way back in season one, interestingly speaks to the importance of our mindsets while also affirming the virtue of technology. The solution is you’ve got to really pay attention to what’s that mindset that I’m currently telling myself that is clearly not helping me feel any better. What do I need to change it to to give myself in a more of a calm state? When it comes to specifically to COVID, what I’ve been telling a lot of my clients is that COVID is not forever. We are all living in a chapter of our life. This is not the life story. This is not going to be going on forever, but it is a chapter. Really trying to help make that the mindset because then there’s a little bit of a beginning and an end to it. This is not forever. What are the things that I’m going to do and I’m going to prioritize that I want during this specific chapter in my life? The thing about thought patterns is you can’t erase thoughts, you have to replace thoughts.
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You literally have to rewrite what you want that new mindset to be, and then you create an action plan. For anxiety, it’s really great for people to actually make a list of things that they can control during COVID. And what skills or things or hobbies or interests that they would like to do during COVID. I have clients, once they learn to adopt this new mindset, they’re doing all kinds of crazy stuff. I’ve got clients that are learning Mandarin, that are learning to play the guitar, that are taking cooking classes, that are doing salsa dancing, that are learning coding. They’re basically making a list of things that they would never really have spent the time to do, but because they’re all inside and now thankfully, because of technology, we can actually learn these things. That would be my encouragement for everybody listening is really focusing on the mindset and change the mindset to be much more empowering. Then the second piece is really make a list of things that you can control during this. Then the other part to it is just really prioritize the physical health. We need to make sure we’re getting enough sleep.
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We’re getting outside nature is amazing, and that’s something that we can do and try to really think creatively how you can socialize and have that sense of connection. Even if it’s with Zoom, even if it’s using the technology that we have, it is important to have that connection. We have to model the mindset shift that Karen talked about so that our young people are equipped to handle other adversities in life by shifting the focus to what they can control, which brings me to my next insight, and that is that we need to be an example for our children. Season three guest, Jenny Black, who’s a therapist, authorized and co-author of Our Digital Soul: Collective Anxiety, Media Trauma, and A Path Towards Recovery, talks about parents having to take care of themselves in order to parent successfully. The bonus is that not only will we be better parents for it, but the means to the end are also great examples to set for our kids. Jenny talks about getting enough exercise and sleep and setting boundaries around technology usage. Let’s listen to what she has to say. Conversations with parents always start with you really can’t even worry about parenting until you have regulated yourself.
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That’s not even about technology. It is for most everybody now, but that’s just about like, Are you getting your needs met? Are you getting enough sleep? Are you eating three meals? Are you exercising? Does your job fit into a beginning and ending of a day? Start taking care of yourself. I have found the number one way to do that is don’t be on a screen if you don’t have to be on a screen. And then if you are finding yourself having to be on a screen a lot, then you need to deal with some boundaries of work or boundaries and relationships. But the reality is we’re not, as parents, we’re not well resourced right now for ourselves. We’re not taking care of ourselves. We are overwhelmed by everything and exhausted and stressed, and overreactive. And so we will be a mess if we try to parent from that place. You could spend a year taking care of yourself, and that will translate so quickly in a very direct way to your kids. So many studies show that parents are still the biggest influence in their kid’s lives. Even though we might not feel like that’s the case, especially when we get into older ages in the teen life where independence is becoming more important.
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And so because we’re a big influence, we have to model the behaviors and habits that we’re expecting and hoping from our kids. I think technology is a great place to start. As Jenny Black said, I’m very conscious of this myself in my world as we talk about phone usage in our home and even in the work that we do with young people. And so often we can be pointed back to say, Well, you’re always on your phone, or you’re distracted in conversations, or you’re not paying attention because you’re in your technology. I think modeling the behaviors we want to see in our young people is really important. Sleep, exercise, all the things that Jenny Black talked about are so important, because not only is it a good example, but they’re actually helpful for us. They will enable us to be better versions of ourselves, to show up when the parenting stuff is real in a way that’s healthy. I think that’s a great advice that Jenny was sharing with us. Season one guest, Orlando Bowen, a motivational speaker who helps develop leadership in youth, had this to say about the importance of modeling the things we want our young people to emulate, and then giving positive reinforcements when they do.
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One of the things that when I think about what it means to model that, because it’s one thing to talk about it, to write it on a board, on a T-shirt. But it’s really like how are you living? How are you showing up in those moments? All the things that we want young people to emulate, I encourage us to model it and then celebrate the heck out of it. For example, if you want to really build a sense of community and the fact that everyone’s voice matters, then you may put a question out. Let’s say you’ve got 10 young people in a group, you’ve got some that are more extroverted and others more introverted, and it’s all good. When you have someone that’s not used to necessarily being the first to put their hand up and they do put their hand up, one of the quieter ones, when you could say, Yes, that was amazing. I appreciate the fact that you put your hand up, man. That really means a lot because your voice is so important. Just something really quick in that moment by validating that young person who perhaps doesn’t usually use their voice has other young people looking around like, Well, maybe I should use my voice.
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Orlando reinforces that idea of us modeling not just the behaviors, but the attitudes that we want in our kids. I love what he talked about celebrating. How do we celebrate, in his words, the heck out of it? I think so often we think about our roles in the lives of the young people we care about as the coach part of it, making sure that all these important things about growing up are learned, that the boundaries and the safety things are in place. It’s easy for us to correct, to nag, to pick on the things, and we’re often focusing on the things that need to be improved or changed. We know this from research. We know because it works with us that if we spend more time celebrating the positives, talking about the things that are great, we can go a long way. I tell this story often around Muscoca Woods, and it came when we spent time down with the baseball team in our city, the Toronto Blue Jays. And we’re talking with Jerry Howard, the voice of the Blue Jays for a long time. And he was telling us a leadership lesson for some of our staff.
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And he was explaining about a pitching coach, one of the great pitching coaches, who would stand behind a pitcher and would just be quiet and would watch them pitch. And when the pitcher did exactly everything that they needed to, the pitching coach would just stand behind them and say, That’s it. That’s it. When they weren’t doing everything the way it should, there was just silence. There was no noise. The pitcher knew that they were working towards getting it right and then they would hear that affirmation. I’ve often thought about that in the lives of parenting or working alongside young people. What if our young people heard more than anything else encouragement and positive feedback when they’re getting it right? I think if I listen and be honest with myself, it’s probably the opposite. My daughter or the kids that I work with probably hear more out of my mouth when it’s not going the way it should. But what would it look like for us as parents to be the that’s it parents? That when the behaviors that we’ve talked about through this episode or the attitudes that we so desire, that kindness, that helping out other people, some of the things in life, the pleases and thank yous and the tidying our rooms and the things that we want to see when they do it right and they do it well, that we can come alongside and say, That’s it.
[00:35:06.220] – Speaker 1
That’s it. We might not always be energetic like you heard Orlando, and be the people to talk it up and to go overboard, like he said, celebrate the heck out of it. But we can be a source of positive input and encouragement. And then I think he’s right with celebration. What are we celebrating in the lives of our kids? In one of the episodes that we went through, we talked about milestones in young people’s lives and celebrating not just these massive accomplishments of what we do, but who we are becoming. I can remember one of our guests who was on The Amazing Race who talked about celebrating failure. And that stuck out to me too. We need to just celebrate that we tried our best and we put our best foot forward. I think a sense of celebration about affirming the really good things in life and then celebrating them and bringing them forward is a great way for us to think about what it means to champion young people and help shape their world. There’s a lot of things over the last three seasons that we’ve been able to digest. Whether it’s how do we focus on relationships first and connect before we connect and be intentional listeners and really focus on relationships as being the primary source of investment in the lives of our kids, and how technology can be used for good and how we can discern some of the vulnerability around it, and what does it mean to change our mindset and for us to help be an example when it comes to the mindset that we have around being empowered and taking control of the things that we can take control of and taking that forward into examples and our
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own behavior and attitudes that we want to see. There’s been so many things that we’ve unpacked, and in the last 33 minutes that we’ve been going through this, there are far more than I could go through. This was just a chance for us to dive deeper into the world of our youth today and revisit and remember, draw to the surface some of these things that for me, I know personally that I’ve learned and I’ve applied to my own life. We are really excited to get into Season 4 and to have more guests and to dive deeper and deeper into the world of our youth today so that we can shape our world and continue to shape the world of the young people that one day, and actually today, are leaders and are right at the center of creating the world that they want to live in and that we actually need. And so thank you for joining us and listening along the way. I hope this was a great reminder to you, and I hope you continue to track with the conversation as we head into our next season in January 2024. We’ve already started recording and we’re excited for some of the guests that we have, a couple that we’ve brought back again from other seasons and some new guests that have some great insights to share with us along the way.
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So appreciate you on this journey with us. We hope that it is shaping your world as we continue to try to shape the world of the kids we care about the most.