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Teens Learn About Less in Chicago

posted by Nell Minow

The Chicago Tribune reports on a class that teaches teenagers “voluntary simplicity,” giving up one something significant each month and thinking, talking, and writing about what it feels like. Begun last fall as a project to inspire mindfulness in the spirit of Henry David Thoreau, the program now seems even more meaningful in light of the economic troubles. Students are evaluating what it is they really “need” and gaining a deeper understanding of the impact they have on the world and the impact the world has on them.

The Mundelein [High School] teens’ project began in November, when they gave up sugar and eating at chain restaurants. A television blackout followed in December, and January’s challenge was to forgo using sheets of new paper. They pledged in February to avoid buying anything that might end up in a landfill. The next challenges are the boldest yet: a March without cell phones and an April without the Internet.


I especially liked the comments of the expert quoted in the article, Madeline Levine, author of The Price of Privilege: How Parental Pressure and Material Advantage Are Creating a Generation of Disconnected and Unhappy Kids
The Price of Privilege: How Parental Pressure and Material Advantage Are Creating a Generation of Disconnected and Unhappy Kids. She said that going without can be good for teens.


Packing lunches, skipping the trendiest jeans or canceling cell phone service gives children a new role as a family contributor and a vital lesson in self-discipline, she said. In the process, young people reared in times of economic abundance may rethink their expectations.
“For many kids, this is an opportunity. I think that most of them are rising to the challenge,” she said.

The economic upheaval provides an excellent opportunity to talk to kids of all ages about the role they can play in helping the family. It does not have to be scary. Indeed, it cam be very empowering to teach them that the feeling of confidence and satisfaction they get from doing without and making a contribution is far greater than the momentary pleasure of being given something that can be lost, broken, or outgrown.

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