Mandi and I recently read an article on the Deep Roots at Home blog titled “Reasons Today’s Kids are Bored at School, Feel Entitled, Have Little Patience and Have Few Real Friends.”
This article resonated with us because we are experiencing some of the same challenges in raising our boys. Is our children’s social and emotional well being really at risk? If so, how do we prevent this? And better yet, how do we put them in a position to flourish? What are the consequences if we don’t do anything? And further, how does camp promote our kids’ social and emotional health?
Our TV Experiment
Power Rangers, Ninjago, Dino Dan, Superwings— these are the shows (“toons”) that our boys love. But how much time should our kids be in front of the TV, and how does it really affect them? This is an ongoing conversation that Mandi and I have. So, a few weeks ago, we decided to drastically reduce TV time for our boys. Interestingly enough, we started to see some big improvements fairly quickly. The boys seemed generally less fussy and moody in comparison to the days when they had more screen time. They also stopped whining about wanting to watch TV, and rarely even asked to watch it at all. So, in our small experiment at home, it seems that watching a lot of TV can carry with it a risk tied to our kids’ emotional stability.
Do our kids need more delayed gratification? Reading the “Deep Roots” article really alerted us to the fact that we really were, in most situations, giving our children what they wanted, and doing so right away. So, over the past few weeks, we took steps to begin to change our perspective. When our kids would whine about wanting something and wanting it now, we realized that those moments were opportunities to teach them an extremely valuable virtue— patience. After a few weeks, what we experienced was that the more often that we delayed gratification, as appropriate, the boys began to repeat back to us what they were practicing— patience! Further, they don’t flip out anymore when they don’t get exactly what they want, and they seem better able to handle stressors of all kinds.
One Easy Way to Help Our Kids
Maybe the biggest roadblocks to our kids’ social and emotional health are our habits and shortcomings. For example, I’m horrible at putting down my phone after I get home from work or on the weekends. So lately I’ve tried my best to leave my phone behind when spending quality time with my family. And I saw firsthand— it really was amazing how much more present I was when I didn’t have my phone with me. I enjoyed my wife and sons and soaked up the moments so much more. And— they noticed. I am now regularly reminded when I’m not fully present in the moment when my youngest son says, “Play with me, Daddy.” That’s my wake-up call. Turning off or leaving my phone is an easy way to help my kids get all of me.
Kids Need to Struggle (To Flourish)
I was recently on a road trip with my good friend Matt, a professional mentor who has worked with hundreds of young adults over the past decade. I asked Matt: What is the biggest barrier you see facing young adults? He answered, “They need to struggle more. They don’t have a proving ground where they get challenged.”
How many really good things in life have you experienced that came without any type of struggle? Maybe you started and grew a successful business or organization. Maybe you enjoyed a gourmet meal right after eating beans and rice for a week on a camping trip. Maybe you reconciled a friendship that experienced years of strife or distance. How much more rich was the success of those things because you went through some degree of struggle? Our children need to practice doing some things they don’t like in order to experience the better things in life. Are we teaching our children to struggle well, or are we all too often just giving them what they want? I know, on many days, I swing to the latter.
We Are Too Busy
As Jacqueline says in the article, it seems like kids rarely have any dull moments, which are crucial for processing what is important in life. Often as parents, we either over-commit and fill our schedules with activity or we resort to getting lost in the drama on TV. When is there ever time to sit, be still, and process what is actually going on?
At our recent camp staff retreat, my wife made the recommendation to schedule in 20-30 minutes to process what had been discussed in a couple of heavy sessions. After the time lapsed, we all came back together to share what we had discovered during our time of processing. The depth and insight that our staff shared was particularly inspiring. To my great benefit, in one particular downtime session, I was able to write out a very meaningful description of something I had been working on for years to describe. How do I create more of these downtime moments where we, and our kids, have zero distractions?
How Does Camp Help?
After writing about the challenges that our children potentially face, it is extremely easy to communicate how kids camp helps them thrive emotionally and socially. First and foremost, camp gives kids extended time away from the TV and immerses them in nature. In this space, kids are forced to be still, stop, and begin to engage in face-to-face conversations with their peers and role models. Summer camp is also an ideal place to learn patience. Whether it involves being patient with cabin mates, waiting for 1st period to start, waiting for midnight snacks, walking a half a mile to get to the favorite night activity, or waiting for the shower to become available, summer camp provides endless opportunities for campers to learn patience and experience delayed gratification in an “I need it now” culture. On top of all of this, campers are surrounded by college-age role models who don’t carry phones, meaning kids get undivided attention from the people they look up to. Camp also provides multiple opportunities for kids to struggle in healthy ways, leading to their growth. Kids struggle having to share space with 11 other campers, having to give up air conditioning, participate in competition even when they are not themselves competitive, taking risks in challenges, and making new friends. Again, this struggling leads to really good things they would not have experienced otherwise! And, summer camp provides daily opportunities for downtime, or free play. At Huawni, we purposely do not overly schedule things so that kids really can just be. These moments are many times the very catalysts for campers’ most cherished memories.
The Consequences of Doing Nothing
If we don’t take action to create environments for our kids to flourish emotionally and socially, it’s likely that they may:
- Experience more stress
- Miss grasping hold of essential character traits
- Struggle making healthy decisions on their own
- Become handicapped from taking on future challenges in life
Decisions We Can Make to Help Our Kids Flourish
So what are some courageous decisions we can make to help our children?
- Replace TV time with being outside
- Say no when appropriate to teach the value of patience
- Turn off and put away the phone
- Create margin in the weekly schedule for downtime
- Send our kids to summer camp where they can grow—and thrive—in ways they can’t at home
And just to be clear—I struggle in all of the above as an imperfect parent. I am hopeful that my struggling leads to a very important thing: my children experiencing social and emotional health throughout their lives, as we all continue to grow together.