Leaving a youth retreat takes a little longer when you’re on the committee that planned it. Except it wasn’t me on the committee – it was my son. He brought home a bag of dish towel laundry to clean. When I started to pick it up to run it, he stopped me, “I’ll do it.”
“Make sure you run it on the sanitary load,” I started to tell him.
“I know. I’ll handle it,” was his response. Enough said…
When you enroll your 8 year old in a program like Scouts or 4-H, you’re more likely to think about the county fair or campfires. You don’t realize that if they stick with it, and it’s a fully organized youth development program, they will be assuming big responsibilities by the time they are teenagers.
And then you don’t realize that when a teen is really given the responsibility to run something, they learn how to run things. They learn by doing (an experiential learning model) how to be self-reliant. I see this not only with my own kids, or with the kids in the 4-H club I lead, but I also saw it in the exceptional young leaders I interviewed this spring for a series of stories on teen youth leaders in my community.
Not all youth programs are created equally. A good program is more than a field trip to the skating rink, games night, and a cookout.
A good youth program is developmentally appropriate and is organized to nurture kids from young grades through high school, inspiring them to return to the program as leaders themselves. Skills are taught. The kids want to be there. Community service is essential.
But the good programs do more than teach skills; they instill character traits and a strong work ethic. They gradually teach kids to assume more responsibility for their own activities. The youth not only develop responsibility for parts of the programming but authority to make some decisions so they feel ownership of their own activities.
Those who work with young people will see the difference between those who’ve learned to work with others through good youth programming. It reminds me of the high school science teacher who said she could tell which kids have cooked in a kitchen and which have not through their performance in science labs. Some kids have so much experience handling liquids and solids that they intuitively know what to do. Those who lack that experience have to play catch up.
I just wish I could convince more parents of young kids to involve their kids early and often in good youth programming.
From the other side of the parenting spectrum, it’s worth it to enjoy the fruits of those early years later.