Parenting a teenager is not for weenies. Those of you who have undertaken it know the struggle is real. Those of you who have only been teens should remember the awkwardness, the endless moments of humiliation, the fear of being noticed, the fear of being unnoticed. It’s just brutal.
The surging hormones mean teens are crying one moment and screaming the next. Boundaries are pushed. Risks are taken. Forethought is abandoned. Ugly tone is constant. They veer back and forth between acting like 8 year olds and sounding like 18 year olds. That’s all in one 10-minute span. You think I’m kidding? You say your teen doesn’t act like this? Kudos to you! You’ve birthed an alien. At least it’s a pleasant alien.
As a parent who had kids later than most of my friends, I watched their constant attempts to rear teenagers to be decent, upstanding adults. (Note: I said rear and not raise. That’s because my mother’s voice is in my head clarifying that you raise turkeys but rear children. My family didn’t actually raise turkeys but still an interesting example.) In my defense, unlike my holier-than-thou attitude before I had children, I have nothing but empathy now.
When raising teens, I try to adhere to the following three principles: Refuse to argue. Offer no advice. Make no attempts at persuasion. I fail miserably on an hourly basis with all three.
I share this with you to introduce the purpose of my column. I do hope it was worth the wait. That subject is CampFIRE. CampFIRE is the CVC’s youth leadership camp for graduating 8th graders in Sheridan and Johnson counties at YMCA of the Bighorns in June. It’s free to the campers thanks to a generous grant and is geared to kids who may already exhibit leadership skills or whose teachers see them as leaders even if they don’t. Heading into high school is a big step.
CampFIRE is about cultivating the leader within to prepare them to make important decisions. Who are you as a person? What’s important to the core of who you are? How do you work with others? How do you communicate effectively to all sorts of people? How can you give back to your community?
CampFIRE utilizes outdoor activities and team building exercises with lots of movement and little sitting coupled with abundant food (a critical component) to work through issues facing all teens.
Six years ago, Jeriann and I had our first camp experience. At that point, my oldest was nine. What did I know about teenagers? I knew fear. That’s what I knew. Faced with 22 eighth graders, I was seized by terror. What if they hated it? What if they demanded to go home early? What if they were -horror!- bored? With Jeriann’s help, I pushed through the three days of camp and it was incredible. During exit interviews on the last day, the campers were profuse in their praise (as profuse as 13 year olds get) of the camp, the fun, the activities and all they had learned about themselves.
Fast-forward five years. Last summer I was interviewing one of the campers. She admitted that she fought her parents about going to camp. She is shy, she didn’t know who was going, she didn’t want to be away from her friends, all the usual teen complaints. She even shamefacedly admitted that she had been ugly and awful to her mom when dropped off. Now, though, she admitted that she was wrong, her mom was right and she loved camp. She hated to leave. Maybe her mom knew something she didn’t. Music to my ears and to her mom’s, I’m sure.
Now it’s time for my oldest to apply for camp. He’s known this was coming for six years. Do you think that matters? No. Do you think he wants to go to camp? Of course not. It’s my idea, to start. That’s the kiss of death. He doesn’t know who’s going because I’m too mean to tell him. I am the parent who will be threatening him with all sorts of heinous consequences if he doesn’t get his online application in on time. I am the parent who will drag him kicking and screaming into the car to head to the Y for camp. (Or at least the teen version of kicking and screaming – sullen hideousness peppered with snarky comments spoken in an undertone.) But it will all be worth it. He just doesn’t know it yet.
The best part other than three days with new friends in the mountains where you learn about yourself and how you lead? His mom was right. And bless his heart, he’ll admit it. Smug? Me? Of course not. I’ll be labeled a blithering idiot in no time so I’ll enjoy that moment for the 30 seconds it lasts.
Have a graduating 8th grade candidate for camp? They too can be threatened and cajoled to fill out the online application at www.sheridancvc.org/campfire by May 19th. I promise it will be worth your pain and suffering. Remember, as I try to, the days are long but the years are short.