Happy Halloween and some thoughts

John Dockendorf30 Oct, 2015
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We wish our Camp Pinnacle family a Happy Halloween. Halloween is easily one of the the three favorite holidays for the Dockendorf family.  I’m going to use pumpkin carving as a metaphor for how high the bar is being raised in our  globalized world.

When I was a kid, back in the dark ages, my parents would present me with my annual pumpkin a few days before Halloween. I would take my knife (kids could have knives back then), hack out a couple triangles for eyes and a nose, try to cut a couple of teeth into the mouth, throw in the candle, and there it was—my best effort! It was all my own work and done in half an hour. No stress whatsoever as I rushed outside to play. I had made my contribution to the neighborhood Halloween experience, and all of the pumpkins in the neighborhood were equally mediocre. That being said, nobody knew differently as we roamed the neighborhood in search of tricks and treats.

Happy Halloween!
Happy Halloween!

Fast forward to 2015: The pumpkins carved in my youth would be ridiculed now. Much of America is too busy to even bother to carve their own pumpkins.  Enter the faux-carved foam pumpkins available in stores everywhere!  For those making the effort, pumpkin carving, thanks to fancy stencils and an arsenal of carving tools, has gone completely over the top!

With thousands of stencils to download, many parents feel their young kids couldn’t possibly carve a pumpkin that would live up to today’s expectations. So some parents take over the task and end up carving the pumpkin themselves.  I was just about to fall into that trap.

My 8-year-old son, Charlie was obsessed with a New England Patriots  pumpkin. (We live in NC… go figure?) After a Google search with examples of complicated Patriots designs, I easily opted against the $10.95 Patriots Pumpkin stencil kit. I had to admit to Charlie that while I was surely good at something, I was hardly the Picasso of pumpkin carving, and we would have to opt for a much less ambitious pumpkin. Tears were shed!

Although we knew our best effort would pale in comparison to all that we had seen on the internet, we decided the best alternative was to create our own pumpkin. It was not the fanciest, the scariest, nor the most unique, but it was our pumpkin. No stencils, no dragons, no football helmets, and yet it was certainly worthy and “scary” enough to adorn our front stoop. And Charlie was even allowed to use a knife! We did it together, and we had fun. The process was far more rewarding than the result. The neighbors may grimace at our low-rent pumpkin, but by lowering the bar, we actually enjoyed the experience more!

The bottom line is that the consistently high bar for everything is stressing out both kids and parents. Kids often wonder how they are going to measure up. And they feel our stress as we wonder, too. Sure, the stakes in the global economy are much higher than they used to be, but there are costs to raising our kids to be “exceptional”—costs we don’t always take into account. As parents, we have certain image of success in mind for our kids—sports championships, music recitals, high grades, attending an Ivy League school—and as a result of these high expectations, some kids become more afraid of failure than ever before. High expectations are a good thing. After all, we want our kids to stretch themselves. But having unrealistic expectations isn’t healthy, nor is raising kids who feel that they aren’t allowed to fail, or that everything they do has to be perfect.

And isn’t it possible that we may be setting the wrong goals for our kids? What if we reframed things?

Hiking Tenant Mountain
Hiking Tenant Mountain

What if we focused less on specific goals and more on one simple question: How as parents do we find ways for our kids to shine? And guide them toward places where they feel happy and on point?

Put differently, perhaps we should focus less on accomplishment and more on finding great environments where our kids will experience successes and feel accepted.

I believe a “great environment” for kids has three important components.

First, it should be a good match for a child’s talents and interests—a place where they feel they have aptitudes and feel a desire to improve these aptitudes.

Second, the “great environment” should provide challenges and opportunities to grow by overcoming successively greater challenges. I.e.,  confidence grows from competence. And resilience grows because of hard work and even more by picking oneself up after failure. That “great environment” is a place where the culture says it’s OK to fail, and provides plenty of support when you do. A growth mindset that rewards hard work over innate talent is the theme here.

The final component of a “great environment” should be community and acceptance. This is often neglected when parents consider activities for their children. But as I look at my three daughters’ soccer teams at the end of the season; far more important than the skills gained or the games won, was the incredible rapport the girls developed and the friendships that extend beyond the field. To me, soccer,  like most youth activities, is merely a vehicle for healthy friendships, healthy bodies, and a respect for all that comes as a result of hard work.

Boys Cabin Playing Games
Working together and playing nice!

Which brings me to Camp Pinnacle. Ultimately, our goal is to create that “great environment” described above for your child. We want camp to be one of the healthiest and happiest times of a child’s life. Our campers say they love being in a place that doesn’t judge them and loves them for who they are, not who they are “supposed to be.” In a world where the bar is being raised every day, we want Pinnacle to be a place where kids can temporarily escape the competitive and digital world and simply enjoy being themselves!

Sometimes the simplest pumpkin is the most satisfying. Charlie and I are both glad we chose not to carve that Patriots pumpkin. By carving our own design, we were ultimately much happier.

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