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21st Century Skills Summer Camp: Teaching Children to be Resilient

21st Century Skills at Camp: Teaching Children to Be Resilient


I recently stumbled upon an article written in the Huffington Post titled “Are We Raising a Generation of Helpless Kids?” In it was a quote from Tim Elmore, founder of a non-for-profit called “Growing Leaders”. Like Camps Kenwood and Evergreen, Growing Leaders has the mission of teaching young people to be resilient, independence, critically thinking future leaders. Here’s the quote: 


“Gen Y (and iY) kids born between 1984 and 2002 have grown up in an age of instant gratification. iPhones, iPads, instant messaging and immediate access to data is at their fingertips,” he says. “Their grades in school are often negotiated by parents rather than earned and they are praised for accomplishing little. They have hundreds of Facebook and Twitter ‘friends,’ but often few real connections.”


teaching children to be resilient

It’s an interesting premise that a childhood filled with instant gratification has fostered a generation of less independent adults. It’s also painting with the widest of brushes. As a camp director of a summer camp in NH I certainly know and work with some extremely motivated, resilient young people. That said, almost all of the members of Generation Y that I encounter are in the context of my camp community. I’m curious if you think overall he’s right about Generation Y. And maybe is the common denominator for these independent 20-somethings that I work with the fact that they grew up, or are now working, within our intentional summer camp community?



Towards the end of the article the author presents this checklist of things that parents could (and in her opinion, should) be mindful of when trying to raise independent, resilient children. Here’s her list:


Where did we go wrong?


• We’ve told our kids to dream big – and now any small act seems insignificant. In the great scheme of things, kids can’t instantly change the world. They have to take small, first steps – which seem like no progress at all to them. Nothing short of instant fame is good enough. “It’s time we tell them that doing great things starts with accomplishing small goals,” he says.


• We’ve told our kids that they are special – for no reason, even though they didn’t display excellent character or skill, and now they demand special treatment. The problem is that kids assumed they didn’t have to do anything special in order to be special.


• We gave our kids every comfort – and now they can’t delay gratification. And we heard the message loud and clear. We, too, pace in front of the microwave, become angry when things don’t go our way at work, rage at traffic. “Now it’s time to relay the importance of waiting for the things we want, deferring to the wishes of others and surrendering personal desires in the pursuit of something bigger than ‘me,'” Elmore says.


• We made our kid’s happiness a central goal – and now it’s difficult for them to generate happiness — the by-product of living a meaningful life. “It’s time we tell them that our goal is to enable them to discover their gifts, passions and purposes in life so they can help others. Happiness comes as a result.”


The uncomfortable solutions:

“We need to let our kids fail at 12 – which is far better than at 42,” he says. “We need to tell them the truth (with grace) that the notion of ‘you can do anything you want’ is not necessarily true.”


Kids need to align their dreams with their gifts. Every girl with a lovely voice won’t sing at the Met; every Little League baseball star won’t play for the major leagues.


• Allow them to get into trouble and accept the consequences. It’s okay to make a “C-.” Next time, they’ll try harder to make an “A”.


• Balance autonomy with responsibility. If your son borrows the car, he also has to re-fill the tank.


• Collaborate with the teacher, but don’t do the work for your child. If he fails a test, let him take the consequences.


“We need to become velvet bricks,” Elmore says, “soft on the outside and hard on the inside and allow children to fail while they are young in order to succeed when they are adults.”


teaching children to be resilient   

Are these uncomfortable solutions the key to raising children who will grow up to be ready for life in the real world? Did a generation of parents go wrongwhen they instructed their children to dream big, and that they were inherently special? As both a parent and an summer camp director I’m very torn by this article. I know that most of the parents of the campers at Camps Kenwood and Evergreen in NH share the goals put forth in this article. I also know that most of our campers grow up to be incredibly talented, accomplished people.  So I’m really curious what the members of our community think about this article. 

Teaching Children to be Resilient

Camps Kenwood and Evergreen is a brother-sister summer camp in NH. Founded in 1930, our program teaches children the 21st century skills that they will need to be future leaders, innovators and people of character. Our daily blog is a parenting resource for those in and outside of our community. To learn more about our incredible summer camp program in NH we invite you to download our brochure.


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