June 13, 2011
Note - this blog is a little more serious, but I want you to see what we do with our high school campers: the Senior Campers.
We meet with each group (those who finished the 9th grade, the 10th grade and the 11th grade) at least twice a week and talk about different topics designed to help them excel at school and at home.
I would like to give you an example of what we do with our 9th graders.
Our first meeting with the 9th graders (7-11 on the girls side and 007 on the boys) concerned dealing with the lies that society barrages our children with. Specifically, there are “3 lies of masculinity” and “3 lies of femininity” that our children see everyday. We have adapted this exercise from the writings of Joe Ehrmann (former NFL great and subject of the best selling book A Season of Life). Joe was a man who was “living the dream” (NFL All-Pro with a great contract, the life of every party) when his younger brother died of Leukemia. He was emotionally unable to provide his beloved brother comfort in his last days due to his lack of emotional availability and it created an existential crisis.
He then began to do work with inner-city youth in Baltimore. He also started to coach a football team at Gilman Academy, a high-end boarding school in the Baltimore area. While working with boys from both ends of the socio-economic extreme, he noticed the same patterns of thought leading to poor behavior.
He decided to coach the football team in a radical way. Every child who tried out made the team and played every game. He would commit one or two hours of practice to discussing social injustices like racism and violence against women. He required the boys to call the parents of their dates and ask “what are your expectations of me as a young man on my upcoming date.” He taught the team that it was his job to love them and their job to love each other.
Here is the part that caught my attention. This football team that focuses on love and excludes no one is regularly ranked in the Top 10 in the nation for prep schools.
He explains that their excellence comes from the fact that the boys are not playing for themselves, but for the guys to their left and their right.
With that story told, Susie and I continue to describe the “3 lies” of masculinity and femininity.
For boys, these are the lies:
1. 1. You are more of a man if you have athletic accomplishment. At most high schools, it is better (cooler) to be the third string quarterback than the best debator in the state.
2. 2. You are more of a man if you have sexual conquests. Having one person that you date with respect is not as manly as having multiple girlfriends that you use.
3. 3. You are more of a man if you have financial accumulation. “He who dies with the most toys wins.”
Please remember that these are the lies. Also, I want you to know that we are talking with teens between 9th and 10th grade. This is not appropriate content for younger campers.
For the girls, these are the three lies:
1. 1. You are more of a woman if you are beautiful. In this case, beauty is defined narrowly and physically (we are not talking about inner beauty). In fact, the expectations created in the media are often incredibly unrealistic. Please look at this video to see what I mean (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iYhCn0jf46U”>http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iYhCn0jf46U)
2. 2. You are not feminine if you are direct and honest. If girl A is mad at girl B, she tells girl C . . and D . . . and E, but never girl B. If a girl is mad at her boyfriend and he asks “what’s wrong”, the answer is often “nothing”.
3. 3. You are defined by the man you date (also called the Prince Charming lie). In the stories, the damsel in distress is “saved” by Prince Charming. The damsel is not able to complete herself, but needs the prince to make her live complete. Do not get me wrong, I believe the two ind
ividuals can complete each other (Susie Ma’am has made me a better person). The danger of this myth is its asymmetry - the damsel is needy, the Prince is not.
We do an exercise with the campers to help illustrate this point. We do it with the young men and women separated. By the way, we have not yet told them the “3 lies”. We ask them to think of a woman (for the women of 7-11) or a man (for the guys of 007) that they deeply admire and would like to be like. We then asked think of three adjectives of phrases to describe this person. We then go around in a circle three times and write down every word of phrase.
The list in impressive: trustworthy, strong character, kind, caring, confident, wise loving, selfless, honest, loyal, inspiring, and other admirable attributes.
We then give then a different assignment. We tell the boys that they are casting directors for a video and “we need men”. They need to make a list of characteristics of the men in the video. For the girls, we tell them that they are editors of a magazine like US or Glamour. They are asked to choose people for the cover and explain the attributes that led to the decision.
For the boys, the list includes the following: physically strong, tall, muscular, smooth, hardened, “good with the ladies”, good clothes, lots of bling. The girls list includes scandalous, air-brushed, fake, full of drama, part of famous couple, etc.
I like to say that Jennifer Aniston embodies the three lies for women - she has done very little since “Friends”, but we still see her weekly. Why? She is beautiful. She lost Prince Charming (Brad Pitt). She seems willing to contact him behind Angelina’s back. James Bond or a gangsta rapper embody the lies of masculinity physically impressive and skilled, wearing great clothes while driving fantastic cars and having multiple female admirers.
We then hold up the two lists. We tell them that the first list shows their values - it shows their heart. The second list is what society is telling us masculinity and femininity are. We also stress that we cannot change society. It is like a river flowing through our lives. It is there and we must adapt to it. We challenge the campers, “Do not be a ping pong ball on the river of life. Instead, know your heart. Know your values. And stick to them.”
We then tell them that the first year of the program is called “Heart of a Champion”. If the campers learn nothing else, we want them to know 1) what they value and 2) that society will not take them there. They must be aware and intentional. If they can do this, they are on their way to living the lives that they truly desire.
The next two years are the “Mentality of a Champion” (where they learn skills that help them learn to “swim upstream” against the current of society) and “Legacy of a Champion” (where they question themselves about the people they’d like to become and write a personal mission statement that is read in front of the camp at our most important ceremony).
We strive to provide each age group specific experiences that help them grow. Obviously, we provide different experiences for 8 year-olds than 14 year-olds. This exercise is designed for high schoolers, but we also focus on each age group to provide activities and challenges that help them have fun and grow.