The other day I was gently reminded of the fact that this was my twentieth summer here at CRC. The honor was subtle and thoughtful, which the other directors knew to be my preference, but it was also eye opening. I think I have a pretty good handle on this place now, but the longer I do this job, the more I feel I have left to learn. I suppose that I like to fancy myself as some kind of youth development professional (if such a thing could possibly exist post the COVID “before times”), but I never really planned on that outcome. It kind of fell into my lap. Not owning a camp per se, but the “understanding children” part. Yes, I realize that I have two of my own (one of whom is about to start high school… help), but it’s different. On one hand, having daughters has made Lisa and I that much more sensitive to the unexplainable desperation that our parents feel from time to time. A small thing becomes a big thing and a big thing becomes momentous. I totally get that, but then there’s the other hand. The other hand holds 230 other children for a couple months out of the year. Every child comes to camp having experienced ten to eleven months of unknown. In other words, we can say and do whatever we want here at Chippewa, but we can’t control the steady drumbeat of societal influence that they’re faced with once they exit through our gates. More on that later…
TikTok is a mind-numbing endless scroll of cat videos, food vlogs and dancing imitation trends that our grandparents could replicate if they had the desire to bother. Every time I see one of my kids doing a TikTok dance it looks the same. You guys know what I am talking about, right? Arms fold into an X, then out front one at a time, hips shake and feet sort of move. They grunt “dah-nah-nah-nah” with each choppy motion. Let’s be honest, these dances are all just watered down variations of the Macarena. I do like that element of TikTok only in that it allows them a modicum of activity while engaging with their technology, but that could also just be me justifying what I know my kids are going to go right back to doing when they get home from camp. Why do I mention TikTok? Because it’s getting in the way. It allows for the wrong role models to provide the wrong guidence at the wrong time.
Over the past few years we have seen a rising generation of empathetic, thoughtful and inclusive campers. They are tech savvy and innovative, yet it has never been so easy for us to “force” our no screen policy on them. Many of our older campers suggest that they actually welcome the break from Instagram and TikTok. Can you blame them? It was one thing when contemporary social media was a shiny new object, but in just a few years it has blown up in all of our faces, and young people are beginning to see what is actually being done to them. They see how they’re being played by these companies and sold like objects. They’re being manipulated into watching harmful content, and buying cheap junk made to look sleek thanks to creative marketing. Children need positive messaging now, and “big social media” is clearly missing the mark.
We have also seen other behavioral shifts in our campers. Particularly as relates to focus, patience and resilience. A consistent decline in those categories has made it harder for us to do our jobs, but I could also argue that the effort has become that much more critical. The point is that these kids need to find their way back on the rails so that they can get moving on saving us all from ourselves. They will be the mess cleaners for their own generation, and we need to help shape and prepare them for the looming future that awaits. I do think that we need to lean in on accountability and redirection now. The COVID generation is at risk of slipping away from us, and I am not referring to their academics. We need to support the social and emotional wellness of our campers while also holding them accountable when they act up, act out or refuse to act at all frankly.
The good news is that all of that bad news is going to make this generation stronger in the long run. I just don’t know how long they can run without our help. “Influencer” is not a viable occupation, so this generation needs to be able to attain a job, show up on time for that job, commit to that job, not lose that job and work from somewhere other than our basements while striving to excel IN that job. We have our work cut out for us, but I really do believe that we can fix this as a community of parents, teachers, coaches, youth professionals and camp directors. I am proud of what our staff accomplished this summer (especially considering the fact that they were facing many of these hardships themselves). They displayed their best selves for the better part of two months, and they left a lasting impression on your daughter this summer. Our job is to provide our campers with a safe and healthy environment to grow and prosper into exceptional and responsible adults, and we will never stray from that objective.
We do, however, need the help of some influencers…
Lisa, Sari and I are so eternally grateful to you all. We were humbled by your faith in our ability to care for your daughter, and to give her the experience that she dreamed camp could be. We hope that she learned to stop and take a breath this summer. Things are moving so fast these days, and it’s kind of important for our children to just chill from time to time. Enjoy the endless stories and songs, get caught up on all of the summer excitement, learn about the new friends that she made, and if you’re really feeling ambitious you might try to understand the game of “Realm” (meh…you may not want to go there unless you have a couple hours to spare).