At one of my son’s soccer games this fall, a mom on our team offered her son $50 for each goal he scored. He had the highest scoring game of his life, and his mom had to fork over enough cash for a new iPhone.
This anecdote illustrates something I have long felt to be a flaw in modern parenting: we have moved far away from wanting our kids to be motivated intrinsically. What bothered me most about the mom’s payout was the incredible value she placed upon her son’s goals. But this is just one example of an established and troubling trend. We as parents overemphasize the importance of our kids’ athletic achievements and academic prowess, and living vicariously through them has in some cases reached manic levels.
We need to back off.
This year, my third child is embarking on the college admissions circus. She is a well-rounded kid who is bright, athletic, and extremely hard-working, but her scores and grades—while very strong—are not at the top of her highly competitive class. At times she’s been made to feel somehow inadequate by the emphasis everyone places on the numbers. I have told her on several occasions that no one will ever ask or care about an SAT score other than during this very short, stressful season of figuring out where to go to college.
I have told her as well that her best qualities are ones that can’t be measured.
She has a terrific sense of humor and a try-anything attitude. She participates in events enthusiastically, knows how to create and have fun with her friends, is savvy with using media to encourage and build community, has good values, and is a quiet leader – one who inspires without being bossy. She has every quality necessary to thrive in a college setting, wherever that may be. Beyond that, she is the type of person employers would want to have in their company, and she will do very well in whatever field she pursues.
It’s no surprise that researchers have found that SAT scores are not the best predictors of success in life. It’s the interpersonal skills—the ability to communicate ideas and get along with other people—that truly matter, yet the way we prioritize our time, energy, and $50 bills doesn’t always reflect the importance of character growth. As parents, it’s sometimes difficult to create opportunities to build social skills, and that’s where camp can fit in nicely.
At camp, kids break from the pressures of academics, testing, and competitive sports and are encouraged to relax and be themselves. In the intense environment of living and playing with a group of people – some of whom were strangers just days before – kids develop social skills exponentially faster than in other environments. I know that’s where my daughter gained many of her interpersonal skills, those “unmeasurables” that will serve her well in college and beyond.
Here are 10 of the many social skills kids learn at camp:
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