Do you ever look around at the world today and wonder how we got here? It seems to me that as a society, we are struggling. I think it is to easy to point a finger at today’s youth without looking in the mirror at how we raised them. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that four out of 10 adults don’t feel like they have a satisfying life and experts estimate that adults are spending as much as eight hours per day, outside of work, looking at a phone or computer screen.
I recently heard psychologist Wendy Mogel say parents are in a state of “continuous partial awareness.” As the parent of a Gen Z (born after 1996) High School student this really hits home. We have raised the physically safest but yet most emotionally high-risk adverse generation of all time. In trying to protect them we have created a generation of children that are struggling with societies demands and serious mental health issues. Technology and social media have further complicated these issues. I heard someone say that teens started to really struggle with anxiety about the time that phones got smart. Only 25% of today’s teens report that they will spend time with friends outside of school.
Anxiety rates in teens are so high that I heard a mental health professional say that living with anxiety is the ‘new normal’. The number of children hospitalized for suicidal thoughts doubled between 2008 and 2015*. Emotional maturity has also declined, and it is estimated that todays teens are about three years behind previous generations. Gen Z youth are less likely to obtain a driver’s license, date, or work at a job outside of school.
So, what can we do? In a world where our youth are struggling – how can we help?
Dr. Mogel said we all want what is best for children, we just can’t figure out if we should be teaching them robotics or foraging to be successful in the 21st century. The World Economic Forum offers some guidance on what will be important for future generations of workers and, surprisingly, it will be people centered skills. With technological and AI advances it seems we will need people that understand people to lead industry in the future. Skills like creativity, problem solving, people management, and relationship cultivation top their list. If positive change happens when we get outside our comfort zone, then where can we send our children that they will be safe, but take risk and experience growth?
Camp offers a great environment to take positive risk opportunities. Whether it’s the physical risk of riding a horse or climbing a rock wall or the emotional risk of sitting down at a table of strangers and making new friends, CAMP offers those chances. Camp is a human powered, technology-free adventure.
And as for that list of top skills that will be needed – creativity, problem solving, people management, relationship cultivation – ALL of those are found at camp. Whether it’s through arts and crafts, building a fire, a counselor in training program, or sitting around making a friendship bracelet with your cabin – camp helps build these ‘top skills’ our youth are lacking.
Using a growth mindset, today’s camps work hard to cultivate a culture that builds confidence and self esteem through one small success after another. Campers are exposed to people that are different than themselves and they learn to work together to solve problems. Today being anxious is a way of life, but being adventurous is also a way of life – at camp! The positive impact of camp can last forever.
*American Academy of Pediatrics PAS Suicide 2017
Brian Miller is the Vice President of Outdoor Connection at Camp Fire First Texas. Previously, Brian worked in the role of a clinical services supervisor at Centene, and advanced through a number of leadership and clinical roles in his ten-year employment at MHMR of Tarrant County. Additionally, he has volunteered at Camp Fire El Tesoro de la Vida grief camp for more than 20 years. He holds a Masters of Science in counseling psychology from Abilene Christian University and a Bachelor of Science from Texas Christian University. He is a Licensed Professional Counselor in the State of Texas.