Encouraging Youth Through Positive Thinking, with Pastor Leo Akpan
Pastor Leo Akpan understands that teenage years and young adulthood can be extremely precarious. Teens and young adults struggle to discover their place in the world and are suddenly faced with a landslide of difficult questions. Who will I become? What will I do with my life? What value will I add to the community?
For parents, watching their children work through adolescence and young adulthood can be excruciating. Just as children grapple with their futures, parents are similarly challenged with questions about how they can best serve their children.
Pastor Akpan devoutly believes that coping with these complex and daunting issues can be manageable through the simple act of positive thinking.
Positivity can greatly influence a person’s future. If children are taught to approach life with optimism, then they will experience more success and joy in life. A positive outlook on life has even been proven to have health benefits, such as boosting the immune system and preventing chronic illnesses. Individuals who embrace optimistic outlooks also tend to experience less anxiety and depression.
Pastor Leo Akpan encourages parents to adopt a three-pronged approach to instilling an optimistic mindset in their children: positive thinking, positive reinforcement, and positive examples.
Lessons that are reinforced in the formative years will shape future actions. If children are taught to approach their futures with positivity and grow up being told that they can achieve their goals, then they are more likely to do so. If children grow up being told that they are limited, then they are less likely to succeed.
Supporting teens and young adults through positive reinforcement is also crucial. Encourage positive actions by praising good behavior and decisions. Criticism always backfires. Instead of inspiring change, it weighs down, dampens the spirits and supports a pessimistic mindset. Parents must respect the influence that they have and use it effectively not to criticize but to stimulate. Give them the incentive to good the right thing and make good choices.
Another way to influence the behavior of teens and young adults is to set positive examples. Parents must behave the way that they want their children to behave. The only reasonable way to expect children to learn correct behavior or a way of thinking is to be the example of the behavior or mindset you are supporting.
The decision-making functions of the human brain are not fully developed until the early twenties. Therefore, it is necessary for parents to assist their children in making good decisions. This can be trickier than it sounds, however. Parents must guide, but not control. Excessive control generally has one of two consequences: it can alienate teenagers and make them rebellious. On the other hand, too much control could make a child overly dependent, which is also not desirable.
A carefully considered approach to helping young people live positive lives is particularly important for those who are raised in disadvantaged communities. Despite being faced with potentially fewer resources and unfair social prejudices, youth raised in underpriveleged communities must remain resilient. Pastor Leo Akpan advises that they work hard to maintain an optimistic spirit and remember that “knowing who you are is more important that what people or circumstances suggest you are.”
Pastor Akpan further reminds his parishioners that all people have something to offer the community. “In life, no matter how bad or good you are perceived to be, there is something of benefit in you for mankind,” he says. Those who have been disadvantaged deserve to be treated with even more kindness and optimism.
The results of a positive upbringing is often evident in the choices that young people make about post-high school education. Youth that have been encouraged are very likely to take advantage of the opportunities available to them, because they understand their potential and believe in their power to succeed. If they are raised to believe that they can achieve their dreams, they will be more apt to pursue advanced education as a natural next step. Again, this can be complicated by relative life advantage.
In a November 2013 speech to students at Bell Multicultural High School in Washington, D.C., First Lady Michelle Obama stressed that all students have the potential to succeed regardless of their personal circumstances, but they must make a commitment to bettering themselves through education. The speech, which supported the Obama administration’s push for higher education, accentuated that such a commitment requires considerable self-confidence, because you must believe that you will succeed and that you deserve to succeed.
As Pastor Akpan reiterates, when children are taught to approach situations with optimism and open hearts, they are more likely to succeed in their endeavors. Despite the innumerable uncertainties facing teenagers and young adults, those who have been raised to react to problems with confidence and to believe in themselves will thrive.
Leo Akpan urges his parishioners to approach their futures with positivity and with their minds focused on being the best they can be at whatever they set their minds to.
CC McComb contributed to this article