Paving the way to adulthood: Promoting personal development in adolescence
The world has witnessed notable progress in early childhood survival and education. Infants and young children are immunized every day against diseases like measles and polio. More children are attending primary school than ever before. We tend to forget, however, that young children are not the only ones who need our help. They grow into adolescents who must face their future, with or without reliable health care or adequate education, and with or without social support or monetary resources.
It is our duty, as parents and adults, to look after children through their adolescent years: from 10 to 19 years old. Children experience poverty differently than adults do. The impacts of malnutrition and lack of schooling in their young lives are permanent and evident in the long term. The same can be said for neglect. If we ignore children’s need for support in their early personal development, we will see the lasting negative results in their adolescent and adult lives.
Teenagers are at a crucial growth stage, and many are forced to mature too quickly and assume adult roles — deprived of what we consider childhood. Adolescents in poor areas who must earn money to feed themselves – and in many cases their families – run the risk of engaging in criminal activities, such as prostitution or drug trafficking, out of fear or desperation. As a result, they are exposed to exploitation and may fall victim to trafficking and abuse. They are forced to think of their safety when they should focus on schoolwork. They worry about what they will eat tomorrow when they should enjoy their right to play and develop their full potential. We can and we must shape the lives of children so that as adolescents, and one day as adults, they can look towards a hopeful future with achievable goals.
Creating safe spaces such as youth centres and encouraging adolescents to develop their interests and passions empower them and provide them with a foundation of self-awareness. For underprivileged children and those with disabilities in particular, these pursuits develop their sense of self-esteem and self-respect. Exploring artistic and athletic avenues in their adolescent years can potentially keep them from “falling off the edge” into harmful or illegal activities that threaten their survival and may continue into their adult lives.
Educational and creative opportunities encourage adolescents to play a positive role in society. Pursuits we casually refer to as hobbies, especially when undertaken by children, such as a sport or music or drawing, are significant and can one day turn into fulfilling, successful careers. Until then, they at least give children the chance to be good at something and proud of their achievements.
I try to bring the radiance of music into the lives of others. The beauty of the human voice in song is transcendent. My desire is to use my influence to fight for the rights of those who matter most to the future: children. As a public figure, a singer, a Goodwill Ambassador, a mother and a human being, it is my duty to do everything I can to help those less fortunate, to raise awareness of ways to solve existing problems in the world and to try to alleviate them for a better future.
Even if we cannot change the world in a day, a month or a year, and even if we cannot help every child, we must at least try. Today’s children will grow into adolescents, then into adults who will take on the responsibility to help save, shape and support a new generation. At times, it can seem like some parts of the world are out of reach, but we all share one planet. We cannot close our eyes to the problems around us. We must unite our strengths to eliminate poverty, neglect and injustice against children. We must ensure that every child has the right to live and develop without fear as they blossom into adults.
Internationally acclaimed opera singer Maria Guleghina, a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador since 2008, is a longtime advocate for children. Her humanitarian work includes charity concerts for the victims of the 1988 earthquake in Armenia, children in Chernobyl, students affected by the Beslan school killings, and children living and working on the streets of Moscow. She has also been appointed to the Honorary Board of the International Paralympics Committee. Maria Guleghina was born in Odessa, Ukraine.