Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Consider the Source

photo: Julien Harneis via Wikimedia Commons
 Cell phones for teenagers are like gills for fish at this point, with nearly 90% of 14- to 17-year-olds now owning a mobile phone. But what percentage of those frantically texting teens know their phones -- and TVs, computers, game consoles & other gadgets -- could be connected to the systematic killing, orphaning, mutilation and exploitation of their peers in Congo?

My 15-year-old didn't, until he was asked to research "conflict minerals" (tungsten, tin, and tantalum) found in Congo and used in all types of electronic devices. Smuggled minerals, it turns out, have been funding one of the bloodiest conflicts since WWII, with brutal militia continuing to rape and kill their way through parts of the Congo and neighboring countries. Disturbed to find that our home (and pockets) contained several e-devices made by companies that haven't done much to avoid conflict minerals, my son created a "Blood Gadgets" page to push for corporate responsibility & consumer advocacy. Imagine how many (essentially enslaved) Congolese child soldiers and child mineral miners -- not to mention their parents -- could be saved if every tech-addicted teen demanded a certification system for conflict-free gadgets, so that buying a conflict-free phone would be as simple as fair-trade coffee or an organic apple.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Gone Camping

image: Canoe Islands French Camp 
 via Wikimedia  Commons
A couple of my teen sons' friends have always seemed like the "camp counselor type." They have a natural way with younger children -- helping out without getting too bossy or controlling, and always keeping a sense of humor. Now that they're old enough, maybe they'll put those talents to use as junior counselors, or counselors-in-training (CITs), at a day or sleepaway camp.

When the CIT system works as it should, it provides a two-way kids-helping-kids opportunity. In exchange for the great camp experience CITs help give younger children, those children give their CITs a lasting leadership experience.

One camp's study on leadership growth in its counselors-in-training, shared through the American Camp Associaton website, found the teen CITs appreciated the "realness" of the learning they did on the job, in contrast to the more abstract learning done at school. On a daily basis, CITs teach younger kids tangible skills, monitor their safety & well-being, mediate disputes, and help them build positive relationships with each other. Hmm...sounds a lot like what good managers do in the corporate world, doesn't it?

The study acknowledged that working with young children can be "very stressful." For some -- very introverted teens, for instance -- I can see how camp demands could be inappropriate, and a "quieter" or more predictable summer job a better fit. But for others -- as the study illustrated -- the challenge ultimately increases their ability to manage pressures, ask for help when needed, and stay organized & prepared so that situations don't get overwhelming. All fabulous assets for college life and beyond.