It’s that time of the year, when you hear of graduations, see the excitement of young faces and read of their stories in the media. A new chapter is beginning in their young lives and they’re being launched out in the world.
Some have plans and others will figure it out as they go. For my eldest daughter, it was to be a Registered Nurse and, for my youngest, it was to be an author and self-employed entrepreneur building keepsake trunks.
Times have dramatically changed now growing up as a teenager, when for me it was the ’60’s and then much later for our daughters. I can still relate to the spontaneous fun and hanging out with friends. There’s no other time like it.
Every generation is scrutinized and may get its share of bad rap when it comes to what they’ll contribute to society. The youth represent the hopes and dreams of the future. How will they protect us and where will they lead us as a country?
For my generation, we were labeled as rebellious and disrespectful; now, some may say the kids today are troubled and entitled. But, I would beg to differ in being quick to judge our youth when drawing on some of my own conclusions from the memories and experiences with our teenage daughters.
Below are a couple of examples on what the youth are about today. From this, I suspect not much has changed from what I learned many years ago from an earlier generation.
Kids are hard to fool — hungry for truth and that which is genuine. I’ve always wanted to write about teenagers and today’s youth. I was reminded of that, as thoughts were rekindled a couple of weeks ago, when I saw this piece on CBS’ Sunday Morning called “Author John Green and his awesome fans”.
They were interviewing John Green, who wrote a book they say today’s younger generation know about. Ask any young person, if they know him, and they’ll say they do. I never heard of him but I’ve seen the TV previews of a new movie based on a book he wrote called, “The Fault In Our Stars”. It exemplifies what’s important to our teens today.
Another piece that aired on the national news was about a teen showing love for his brother by walking 40 miles carrying him on his back. It was to help raise awareness on the needs of cerebral palsy.
These days, as a grandmother, I’m on the fringe and it’s our daughters and their husbands raising children. It is so easy to lose touch and make quick judgments when you’re not the ones on the front line involved in kids’ everyday lives and their world.
I get concerned when I hear about troubled teens, bullying and school shootings and wrote a story about it (“Calling All Angels“), when it hit close to home a couple of years ago on the Colorado theater shootings. Our grandson had a fellow classmate killed.
It’s different in the lives of today’s youth and what they experience as kids. It shouldn’t have to be that way for the youth of any generation but it is that way too often. They’re not being drafted, plucked out of their homes and flown across the world to fight in Vietnam. Instead, they’re fighting every day in their communities, schools and sometimes their homes.
When I hear of those that rise above it with courage and compassion, I want to pump my fist and shout, “Yes” — that’s what I’m talking about. I know what these kids can do.
Years ago, when our daughters were teenagers, I was privileged to enter and become a part of their world, as a chaperone, for what turned out to be several years at many 4-H retreats and camps. Like what seems too often, there was a shortage of chaperones for a new Youth Fest 4-H camp they were launching just for 11-to-13 year olds.
I volunteered and little did I know what I was about to experience. As a kid, I had only been on one, week-long, church camp and couldn’t wait to get home. In fact, if my parents had a phone I would have called and pleaded for them to come get me right away. I hated the experience, so I don’t know why I was choosing to camp again many years later as an adult. I’m glad I did and this time for only a weekend.
There we were — me and my daughters. This was to be my youngest daughter’s first camp, squeaking in at 11 — both were thrilled. There were boys! When we arrived Friday night, it was chaos. It turned out there were around 200+ kids with their pillows, backpacks and parents, attempting to register.
It was amazing how quickly things got sorted out and everyone settled in after having said their goodbye’s to their parents. Only this time, I wasn’t one of those leaving and I was happy to see a few other adult chaperones mingled among the giddy, giggling young people.
I remember there was one set of parents that were the last to leave. Their son was eleven and blind and it was his first time away from home without them. Understandably, Porter’s parents seemed a bit apprehensive in spite of the assurances of 4-H adult counselors. But, as the evening program progressed, they were more comfortable with how competent the teenage camp leaders were in taking charge and running things smoothly.
I was amazed, too, in seeing how well organized it was with over 200 kids and how responsive they were to these young leaders, especially Stacey, their 4-H President. At first glance, he surely wasn’t the typical teenager with his offbeat, personal preferences of hair and clothing. It was his magnetic personality and high-energy that was endearing along with his compassion with other kids.
He was the real deal and the kids loved him as well as his 4-H team — Derrick and Brenda. I had never seen another kid have that much influence on young people as well as the adults. My eyes were opened to the potential of youth when given the chance to learn by doing instead of the adults always running the show.
These kids were out of their element of school and friends and placed in a new arena of peers. It was interesting to watch it unfold over the weekend. Those that were once confident were now treading water, watching for what to do and how to act. Others that were more reclusive were feeling safe and coming out of their shells.
Everyone was on the same leveled playing field. All were accepted and treated the same and all had to follow the rules, no exceptions. When one of the leaders addressed a camper to correct them on a rule they broke, it was never challenged. I saw peer pressure in action at its highest positive form.
One example, I remember, was with my youngest daughter. She was never an early riser and I always had trouble in the mornings getting her up and going. The first morning of camp, there was a schedule to follow with breakfast and workshops to attend.
As usual, she was dragging and falling behind in time until Brenda came in and called her out on it and told her, in no uncertain terms, to get herself together and be downstairs. I never saw her move so fast and be glad to do it. After camp, she followed suit and I never had problems with her again.
Over the weekend, wherever Porter needed help in maneuvering his new surroundings there was always another kid ready to jump in right beside him. He never lacked in adding his contributions to the workshops and crafts.
In fact, I can still remember that Sunday, the last day of camp, and the feelings of how close we had become in such a short time — kids and adults. The parents were beginning to arrive and we were all assembled in the lodge hall. Some were sitting in chairs and the rest were standing by the wall around the room.
Stacey and his team were taking turns highlighting the events of the weekend and giving their praises for how well everyone had done. It was also a sharing time for the kids, as well. Hearts were touched in everyone on some level and tears started to fall. You got a strong sense that no one wanted it to end.
Then, Porter’s parents announced that he had written a song and wanted to sing and perform it for them. So, Porter was guided to the piano and sang his song. There was not a dry eye in the building and it was a gift of sweet, pure love. I can’t remember too many times in my lifetime that I’ve ever experienced that type of collective love.
Our daughters went on to lead workshops and work closely with the 4-H teams over the years. I could see the challenges they went through at school fitting in and catching heat over challenging decisions they had to make. It was hard but these camps were life savers for them allowing them space to explore and be accepted for who they are.
When I’m with my grandchildren and see youth on TV, I can see the torch has been passed in some form. I can feel the return of love and warmth in my heart knowing that many of our youth have it together and will be there to help others along their way like they did for us so many years ago in 4-H camp.
Pat from the ol’ kitchen table