While the pandemic provided plenty of one-on-one time for Lakeview mom Christine Hutchison to bond with her then 13-year-old-son, Jackson, Hutchison wasn’t prepared for the types of conversations he wanted to have.
“Jackson started coming to me to discuss real world issues like climate change and cyber bullying,” says Hutchison. “Having these purpose driven conversations made him feel good about himself, but I realized that he could benefit more from talking to older peers versus his parents.”
That’s when Hutchison came up with Teen Innovators, a virtual community for teens by teens, dedicated to fostering an innovative mindset in tomorrow’s leaders. This online platform allows young and old teens to grow alongside each other, providing a fun and effective way to learn leadership and life skills not taught in today’s COVID curriculum at schools.
How it works
Teen students ages 11-16 can sign up for an account and read bios of teen mentors ages 17-21. Unlike traditional mentoring programs which require an ongoing commitment, Teen Innovators provides 30-minute mentoring sessions one conversation at a time.
The unique set up allows younger teens to find their voice and identity, as they crave validation from older peers, while at the same time, provides older teens an opportunity to teach through experience.
“This generation loves instant gratification,” says Hutchison. “We have found that younger teens walk away happier and more self-confident, and older teens can develop and hone valuable leadership skills.”
Teen students can choose the nature of their conversations from three different tracks. The traditional mentorship program is an open-ended conversation for whatever is on the teen’s mind. The leadership track encourages conversation about global problems and possible solutions. The high school and college prep track provides young teens with prompts to ask about what they can expect in the next phase of life. Skill-based classes are also offered.
Currently, there are more than 70 teen innovator students and approximately 20 peer mentors. Monthly subscriptions start at $69 per month.
“We focus on creating two-way conversations instead of giving advice,” says Kate Bryar, a program mentor and freshman at Northwestern University who created a skill-based course on note taking styles. “’This is really rewarding work.”
Bryar has talked with younger teens about sustainability, the problems with clean energy in the world, and how to make the world a better place.
“It was really cool to be able to have conversations and get to know each teen individually,” she says.
Hutchison says this program works well because teens are often more willing to open up to someone outside their initial network.
“I always had the motto that when kids become teens, they need an outside mentor,” she says. “The parents influence who they are at a younger age, but when teens try to create their own ideas and identity, they crave and need someone to look up to.”
Bryar says that through sharing her personal stories, passions, successes and failures with teen students, they can relate to her.
“While we are similar in age, the gap is large enough that they know mentors have had more life experience and can teach the teen student because we’ve been where they are not too long ago.”
Hutchison says Teen Innovators plans to expand virtually and hopefully in person in a post-pandemic world. Her visions for the company include boot camps and summer camps in various cities across the U.S.
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