How Can Your Teen Claim Her Power? Part I

by Jacob Sabourin

One of the things we love to explore with teens here at Open Doors is how they can reclaim their power.  It begins with some critical thinking about what power is, and how they can access it.

Our Open Doors Intern, Jacob Sabourin, has worked closely with struggling students at Aquinas College here in Grand Rapids.  He is a Political Science major with a keen interest in the politics of power.  At Open Doors, he offers a class called Powerful Possibilities.  Here he begins a critical analysis of power.

A stressed teen tries to access her own power in ways that cause friction with family.

The word poder in Spanish has two meanings when we try to translate it into English:

  1. Power (a noun).
  1. To be able to do something (a verb). Conjugating poder in this way allows a Spanish speaker to say things like “yo puedo,” which means literally, “I can.”

Power as we think of it (as a noun), is a measure of the ability to do something. “What can I do?” is the same question as “What power do I have?”

Resources are the sources of peoples’ power. Money, knowledge, and physical strength are all resources. In this way, money, knowledge, and physical strength are all forms of power.

A good way to begin to understand power dynamics in the world is to ask questions about resource allocation. For example:

  • Who has the most money? How did they get that money? What do they spend it on? How much do they spend?
  • Who has the least money? Why do they have so little money? What do they spend their money on? How much do they spend?
  • Who has the most knowledge? How do they get that knowledge? What are they using that knowledge for?
  • Who has the least knowledge? Why do they have so little knowledge? How do they use their limited knowledge?

    A teen often fears he is the one with the least knowledge and the least power.
  • Who has the most physical strength? How did they get so much physical strength? How do they use their physical strength?
  • Who has the least physical strength? Why do they have so little physical strength? How do they use their limited physical strength?

To ask these questions is to begin to think critically about the world around us. These questions can be applied to the large scale: “Who has the most power on Earth?” or the small scale: “Who has the most power in my classroom?” To be a true critical thinker, one also has to ask, “How much power do I have?” and related questions such as, “Who has power over me?”

Through critical thinking, we become aware of the world, and by extension, ourselves. So, through critical thinking we gain knowledge of a very important kind.  This knowledge allows us to increase our power as individuals.

If everyone were to think critically about the world, we would all be more knowledgeable, and all of us would create a more powerful society. That is, we would be able to do more.

An empowered teen has more tools to face life’s challenges.

In Part II, Jacob will explore how every part of learning can be connected to these questions of power.

This post is part of our “Your Life – Your Learning!” series, designed to help the Grand Rapids community rethink teen learning, and brought to you with support from the Wege Foundation.