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His Holiness the Dalai Lama takes a moment to speak to youth attending We Day in Vancouver, Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2009. (Jonathan Hayward/Jonathan Hayward/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
His Holiness the Dalai Lama takes a moment to speak to youth attending We Day in Vancouver, Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2009. (Jonathan Hayward/Jonathan Hayward/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Ask the Kielburgers: My daughter's excited to change the world. Now what? Add to ...

Welcome to Live Better, a new weekly feature from Globe Life dedicated to giving back and socially conscious living

QUESTION

I've heard that kids come home pretty pumped after attending We Day. My daughter is going to one with her school. How can I help her channel all that energy into something positive?

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ANSWER

Picture 18,000 teenagers packed into Toronto’s Air Canada Centre, screaming at full volume for their favourite Canadian rock band.

Then they listen, riveted, as former Irish President and UN Human Rights High Commissioner Mary Robinson challenges them to stand up against global injustice and take action against famine in the Horn of Africa.

It’s We Day, when inspired young Canadians celebrate their power to change the world. And today’s event in Toronto – among this year’s guests are Mikhail Gorbachev, Al Gore and Nelly Furtado – is the first of five across Canada this school year.

As far as the energy generated, we get them pretty riled up. When they’re not dancing to the headliners’ tunes, they’re being exposed to serious social issues – five hours of that can be pretty intense. Reports from the school buses are that the conversation is markedly different on the way there (gossip about the day’s performers) than on the way home (planning their first fundraising project).

We Day is a free event for students to attend and it’s stuffed with live appearances by Nobel laureates, celebrity activists, inspiring young role models and a slew of recording artists whose hit songs invade every kid's iPod playlist. But to gain access to these high-powered speakers, the students must earn their entry through service. Last year alone, participants from 2,000 schools volunteered 1.7-million hours and raised $5.4-million for 500 local and global organizations.

Tonight, when your daughter or son gets home, you might hear plans to run a marathon or climb Mount Everest for charity, or to scramble off to Africa to volunteer (not all ideas from us, by the way).

So how does a parent harness all that excitement? We prescribe a heavy dose of engagement on that first evening. Hear them out and ask follow-up questions to show your support and to better understand where they’re at. Check in with them the next morning and offer your help with an action plan or whatever they need in the weeks ahead.

Ultimately, you want to channel their passion into a healthy and lasting appetite for social involvement. We’ve found success using a simple formula that works with even the most anti-algebra teen: Spark + Gift = Change. That is, match a child’s interest in a specific issue with something they’re good at and love to do, and it will lead to a fun and successful project for a better world.

If their talent is computer programming or techno savvy, kids can help a local organization create a Facebook page or website. Young athletes can host a charity tournament in their sport. Or if your child is a talker (as Marc and I were growing up), they can speak to their classmates about their issue.

For instance, Melanie Bell from Coleman, PEI, loves poetry so much that at 15 she composed, illustrated and self-published two collections of her poems, directing proceeds from the book Tears for the World to a PEI-based organization that helps farmers in Africa.

And if your child’s gift is not clear, she or he can mow lawns, shovel sidewalks or do chores in exchange for a contribution to their cause – good for them, the world, and your dishes all at once.

Once the spark and the gift are identified, it’s important to start small. The quick-and-easy first success reinforces their confidence and leads to bolder next steps.

Finally, as a parent of a young world-changer, you want to support and encourage, and then get out of the way. Like any path in life, the journey to making a difference will present struggles.

Help young people understand and overcome obstacles, but don’t be afraid to let things go wrong. Kim Plewes from Oakville, Ont., became interested in volunteerism at age 12. She remembers being bullied by classmates because it “wasn’t the cool thing to do.” Her mother helped her realize that she shouldn’t try to preach to others to join her, but instead quietly make volunteering part of her daily life. Soon, curious friends decided to come along on her Saturday efforts to raise money to build schools in Southeast Asia.

You can also help your aspiring world-changer by stocking their basement “office” with supplies, buying the pizza for their first meeting with friends, helping troubleshoot their action plan with achievable targets, and being their go-to person for answers (being honest when you don’t know, and finding out together).

Then sit back and watch as they surprise you with their passion, creativity and perseverance. You’ll never be prouder.

Can’t make it to We Day in person? Go to weday.com to see how to get in on the action.

Please send us your questions – on any topic from ethical clothing and investments to how to fight global poverty and build stronger communities. (We may even have a little celebrity gossip on social causes for you from time to time.)

Craig and Marc Kielburger co-founded Free the Children. Follow Craig at facebook.com/craigkielburger and @craigkielburger on Twitter.

Readers are invited to send questions to livebetter@globeandmail.com.

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