The Kids are Alright

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Every generation seems to find their successors in need, in dire circumstances, or in some cases, evidence of the decline of civilization itself. I have no doubt been the accused and the accuser of such aspersions, and one only needs to look at what is being said about Gen Z to realize that the trend continues. These kids have been blamed for everything from the death of books, to, well, the decline of civilization itself! We hear and read stories about the epidemic of anxiety and depression that our young people are facing. I don’t dispute that - and see firsthand the toll that over-information, over-expectation, and over-worrying has taken on our campers and young staff. But despite this, and despite real differences in the way my generation looks at the world, compared to this generation I firmly believe that, to quote Pete Townsend, “the kids are alright.”

Do kids today still do the same stupid stuff we did? - by all means. Do kids still suffer from stifling self-doubt or worry during the middle school years? – sure, they do. Just ask a 12-year-old how their day went and wait for the crickets. Is there an increasing prevalence of anxiety disorders amongst children? – yes, but I venture that there is an equal increase amongst adults as well. I find that if you ask any kid a probative question, you might not get a satisfactory answer. But if you listen to a 12-year-old kid, he/she is more than likely to be insightful, curious, and incredibly in-tune with the thoughts and feelings of their peers. As parents and adult observers, we don’t always get the chance to see this because their heads (or ours) are focused on the screen in hand.

In a camp setting, without the distraction of screens and with the presence of an adult mentor taking a personal interest in their success, kids are wired to rise to the occasion. There are other opportunities for this, and if a kid is lucky, he or she finds the same opportunities in school, in sports, extracurricular activities or other outlets. What is absent though, seems to be our ability to see and hear this as well as our seeming reluctance to give kids an opportunity to take measure of themselves, amongst supportive peers and mentors. It is important that we set standards and inspire kids to achieve, but it is also important that we recognize what kids are telling us.

My generation, too, has been wired to focus on the concern. We see examples of extraordinary achievement, as well as stories of wrenching anxiety. For those in the “vast middle” - whom we tend to lump with one extreme or the other, the story is different and seldom told, or listened to. When I listen in, I hear a desire to change the world for the better, a heightened sense of social justice, big dreams, realistic expectations, empathy and compassion. How we recognize, reward, and nurture these traits is topic one for us at Camp Mishawaka.

I find much to be optimistic about this next generation, and I couldn’t be happier to work in a field with a group of like-minded adults who share the feeling, are aware of the stakes, and dedicated to making sure that these alright kids, become exceptional adults.

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