Friday, July 24, 2009


During the National Civic Summit last week, I attended a session hosted by Best Buy on their new @15 initiative. The effort is based on their contention that, "What happens at age 15 has a lot to say about teens' success in school and beyond." The Best Buy Children's Foundation commissioned Minneapolis-based, Search Institute, to conduct a national study of 1,817 fifteen-year-olds and draft a new report, Teen Voice 2009 (PDF). The report introduces three concepts that have potential to set or keep 15-year-olds on a positive course at this critical time in their life: Sparks, Teen Voice Index (TVI), and Relationships and Opportunities Index (ROI).
Key Findings from Teen Voice 2009 -Sparks, which are individual talents, passions or gifts that give teens energy, motivation, focus and joy, are critical to teens' well being. Yet, while 66% of teens surveyed can identify at least one spark for themselves, fewer than half who know their spark have much spark support beyond their family. -Teen Voice Index (TVI), a new measure of teen engagement in social issues, found 18% of youth scored high, indicating significant opportunities to help young people find their voice and contribute to their communities. Teens with high TVI scores are at least three times as likely as those with low scores to see civic engagement as important, hold prosocial values and have a sense of hopeful purpose for the future. -Relationships and Opportunities Index (ROI) is a new measure to track three elements that significantly help teens: being valued and treated fairly; having access to high-quality opportunities, such as after-school programs; and having people who nurture their sparks. Only about one in eight (12%) of teens score high on this index. Youth with high ROI scores are much more likely to report positive outcomes and are three times as likely as those with low scores to have a sense of hopeful purpose, express caring values, be actively engaged in school and take on leadership roles.
While I am initially somewhat wary of Best Buy's self-interest in reaching out to the youth demographic (traditionally known to retain the most expendable income for discretionary spending) given the corporation's interests in advancing their bottom line, at the same time, there is, undoubtedly, real opportunity to leverage their access to (droves of young Best Buy retail store employees) and appeal to (electronics-savvy generation) the youth population for the common good. The research and media surrounding this effort is an important step to acknowledging a different kind of story about teens than is typically portrayed. Moreover, highlighting the beliefs of young people in their own power and potential is critical to changing norms and stereotypes that exist around youth. As President and CEO of Best Buy, Brian J. Dunn, notes in the report's welcome letter, "Too often we hear bad news about young people - the challenges they face or the problems they create. Best Buy is committed to changing the conversation about teens and helping the world to see them as the outspoken, intelligent, creative, bring-on-the-world individuals they are."

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