Sunday, November 19, 2006

Camping with the Middles

Are we getting so old that we are no longer understand the lingo and music of today's youth? I think not! I may be in my 40's, but I can chill or hang with the best of them. In my desire to maintain a strong, open relationship with my kids, I vascilate between living to embarrass them to sitting quietly and observing them in their natural social habitat. Both seem to annoy them if they catch me in the act.

So when my kids told me they just had to go to the middle school CONference with kids from their Religious Education class and that drivers/chaperones were needed, the date with destiny was made. I'd never been to The Mountain Center in Highlands, NC and was warned that it is a pretty rustic retreat center that focuses on honoring the natural habitat. Fair disclsosure: My idea of "camping" is staying at a hotel that doesn't provide thick, terry bathrobes nor room service.

We set out for the two hour drive on Friday evening, right after my husband returned from a week-long trip to Japan. "Make sure you get plenty of sleep on the flight back home, honey," I warned him. "You are going to be the adult advisor to four of our young men from church this weekend in a rustic mountain cabin."

It was absolutely beautiful in the mountains of Highlands, NC with fresh air and the most beautiful sunrises and sunsets. The stars in the night sky seemed close enough to touch. The weekend flew by and upon our return, there were several things I learned:

1. Kids are under a lot of pressure to conform to social norms, which are heavily influenced by corporate marketing. I heard kids talk about the looks and comments they receive if they aren't wearing "the" clothing brands. Some of these kids reject certain brands for socially responsible reasons -- like child labor issues, sexist marketing, and the way the environment is treated by the producers. Some would rather have less expensive clothes and save money for other things.

2. Kids don't feel safe to be themselves most of the time. Adults are not mindful about creating environments where all children and youth feel accepted being who they are. There is pressure to live up to an image or try to make self invisible to avoid being noticed.

3. Even the quietest kid has remarkable talents. During a session called the Coffee House, the youth were encouraged to sign up for a slot during the open mic Coffee House. Everyone is cheered for having the courage to get up there. Laughter was kind and the applause was genuine. A couple of kids decided during the Coffee House to add their names to the list when they saw the kind of love and encouragement others received.

4. Kids need safe spaces and places to relax, unwind, and just be. Parents aren't the only people in the house who are stressed out during the day. We need to be mindful that our kids need the same kind of serenity moments where they don't feel the need to be "on."

5. Parents dance like "old people." No matter how many dance contests we might have won at our college bars, kids today think we dance "funny." So my Shakira-booty-shake might continue a little longer due to the laws of physics on my middle-aged behind -- why should that embarrass my kids? And my idea of popping my back involves a chiropracter, not a rapper.
We can still have fun! We just realized that the Electric Slide is older than today's middle schoolers -- the DJ might as well have played "Celebration" or the Hokey Pokey!

6. Quirky can be cool. As I watched these kids interact over the weekend, I heard the kid inside me ask, "where were these cool, quirky kids when I was growing up?" They seem so much more comfortable in their own skin than I did at their age -- as well they should! Instead of worrying about how they might not fit in, they focus on what is important to them: A few real friends over mass popularity.

It seems these young people already know what many adults have yet to learn -- that appealing to the masses is meaningless if you don't love and trust yourself. That is what authenticity is all about.

We ended the weekend with the kids offering reflections on what the weekend meant to them. They shared sincere appreciation for the time together, the opportunity to commune with nature, make new friends and renew old friendships with kids from other states.
This article is my way of saying, "Thanks, kids! You taught me so much. I can sleep better knowing the future is in your hands."

No comments: