the generation that will end slavery
Twelve high school girls sat solemnly in a circle, fiddling with tiny green envelopes in their hands. They opened and closed the flap, reaching inside as if to sense what was written on the card without actually looking. All week at summer camp, they had been scarfing candy, singing loudly and laughing over inside jokes, leaving glitter hair spray in their wake as they ran from activity to activity. Now, on the last day, they stared at the ground and waited for my instructions, feeling the weight of responsibility settle on their sunburned shoulders.
Inside the envelope was a challenge — a handful of words that would call them to serve their community, their school or their church in a way they never had. They didn’t have to take one; the camp directors had made it clear that it was optional. But if they did, they were committing to complete the challenge. It was a bold ask, one that most adults would skip if given the option.
All twelve fourteen-year olds held one in their hands.
I’ve worked with high school students for six years, and the thing I love most about them is their passion. They push past their fears for things they care about.
The first girl opened her envelope and read the little card aloud.
“Drink only water for a year. Every time you do, pray for people who don’t have access to clean water.”
She let out a deep sigh of relief, evidently content with the soda-less year ahead, as the other girls commented on how much they’d miss Starbucks if they got that challenge (a valid point).
"What I love most about them is their passion. They push past their fears for things they care about."
One by one, they revealed their cards, which had on them things like offer free babysitting for families in need and start a club at school dedicated to cleaning up the community. They all accepted them with determination, smiling and nodding as the other girls clapped.
Teenagers are willing to do something about the things that matter to them. They change their Instagram bios to reflect their current passions. They’ll wear a bracelet from a concert until it falls off. They’ll plaster their Hydroflask with stickers that each have a backstory. They’ll open an envelope that will challenge them to turn their school year into something significant.
They’ll wear a dress for a month if they learn how sex trafficking affects teenagers just like them.
Most people who are trapped in the commercial sex trade were captured around age 12 (DoSomething.org). They were robbed of their adolescence, unable to take on a challenge in an envelope to change the world. Instead, their world was changed without their consent.
What if one teenager gave dignity to the life of another by changing one simple thing: What they wear for the month of December? We've seen youth ready to make a difference. They showed up to their middle schools and high schools day after day in a dress, putting the link to their campaign in their bios, posting on Snapchat, creating hashtags, editing photos with finesse and getting friends to join.
As a youth pastor, I follow lots of teenagers on Instagram. My feed was absolutely flooded with girls doing Dressember last year. They took on the challenge with enthusiasm and photoshoots and branding. They’re a natural fit for a challenge like Dressember, because teenagers were raised on social media. They know what grabs their attention and what makes them keep scrolling. They know that lots of little contributions can make a huge difference — this is the generation that brought us Nuggs for Carter, after all.
If you’re a teenager, embrace the power you hold to free your very own generation from slavery. You were raised with the internet at your fingertips, so you have natural instincts when it comes to sharing a cause on social media. Your community at school, at home, and on the internet need to be reached somehow — and you can be the one to do it. Your fellow teenagers who are trapped in sexual slavery will thank you when they have their freedom back.
And if your teenage years are long gone, think about the young people in your life, like nieces, daughters or coworkers. Have you told them about Dressember? If they’re anything like the teenagers I know, they’ll have a post up on Instagram before you even finish.
About the Author
Heather Leith is a youngest child, an Enneagram 7 and an ESFP, a combination that means she feels at home on a stage and will pick up and leave on a road trip on a moment’s notice. She’s passionate about youth ministry, proper grammar, and her Shakira impersonation. You can find her at heatherleith.com.