Two Girls and the Lessons They Teach

Malala Yousafzai and Amanda Todd: What We Can Learn from Two Tragic Events


Two recent news stories involved young teenaged girls. Malala Yousafzai, aged 14, was shot by Taliban gunmen because she spoke out for the right of Pakistani girls to be educated. Amanda Todd, aged 15, committed suicide in Canada after describing on the internet her story of being bullied. As we work through the grief that naturally accompanies events like these, it is helpful to search for insights that can strengthen our efforts to prevent their repetition.


As children enter their teenage years, they outgrow the games and activities of childhood and begin searching for a broader focus for their lives. Malala’s family supported her awakening interest in resolving some of the injustices in her society. Her life took on a sense of purpose and fulfillment that made her a heroine in her society long before the shooting took place. Amanda’s interests centered on a narrow preoccupation with her physical attractiveness. This focus, coupled with her unsupervised exploration of the internet, lead her to the sexual predators whose influence eventually caused her to take her life. While we deplore the actions of the gunmen who tried to kill Malala, we can also appreciate the crucial importance of helping our young teens find meaningful avenues for directing their awaking energies in constructive directions.


If we shift our focus to the people responsible for these tragedies, we find another important lesson. With both the Taliban extremists and the cyber-bullies, we see people who are so fixated on their own concerns that they are incapable of sensing how their actions affect others. The horrific results of their ignorance can motivate us to help our young people learn to appreciate the painful effects of hatred and lust, while simultaneously cultivating such qualities as tolerance and compassion.


While we can’t undo the harm caused to these two girls, we can commit to a broadened scope for our children’s upbringing that includes the education of the will and feelings as essential aspects of a healthy adolescence.


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