Friday, February 24, 2012

Kids learn big lessons from small groups

From today's Briefing:

My generation of parents has earned its share of derision.
We are overprotective. We think our children have no faults. We lavish too much praise. We often grant freedom without corresponding responsibility. Or we don’t grant enough freedom, creating young people afraid to take risks and solve problems.
All true to some degree. All with short-term and long-term troubles.
One thing I’m convinced we’re doing right: encouraging our children to become part of a structured group.
Organized sports, Scout troops, clubs, performance groups. Yes, there can be too many piled on, but I think every child needs at least one.
They need to learn how to work toward a common goal, to compromise, to lead, to follow when appropriate, to recognize when to set aside selfishness for the greater good. They need to learn how to create and maintain community.
Last weekend, Cooper left such a group and joined another. He and some of his fifth-grade buddies bridged from Cub Scouts to Boy Scouts.
It’s an achievement worth celebrating. These boys have worked together for years, following a regimented program based on character, physical fitness, practical skills and community service.
Which translates into camping when it’s 100 degrees and again when it’s 28. Collecting canned food for families in need. Learning how to play marbles. Racing pinewood cars and balsa wood sailboats. Identifying poisonous plants and snakes. Learning how to create a sling from a neckerchief and how to safely diffuse a bee sting.
Cooper and his buddies have learned to care for one another with skills they’ll need as they grow into adults.
With middle school just months away, Cooper and his peers will have even more groups to choose from.
Tuesday night, the middle school principal stood before a crowd of future students and parents to talk about the transition from elementary school. We learned about leveled courses and cafeteria choices and extracurricular activities.
The kids who adjust best to middle school, he said, are those who get plugged in right away. They become part of a small group and remain engaged.
Small groups were what made my own middle school years bearable. When I found like-minded kids to latch onto, I was less terrified of the masses.
My security was choir (though I’m a terrible singer) and my language arts class, filled with other kids who loved to read and write. Those two groups made the rest of the angst-ridden experience bearable.
It was the same in high school and college. I was happiest and did my best work overall when active in a close-knit group. (And friends from those groups are still some of my dearest.)
It’s the same now, long past the days of lockers and mean teens and exams.
I’ve chosen to be part of small groups of friends with common interests. One circle gathers once a month to study the Bible. Another volunteers at our neighborhood school.
This is Katie’s second year in her own small group — a Daisy Girl Scout troop of eight. Early in the experience is an emphasis on sisterhood. It’s right there in promise: “Be a sister to every Girl Scout.”
Katie and her friends are learning how to treat one another with respect, how to be courteous and helpful. They are discovering how their decisions and actions affect others. They are building a small community of accountability and problem-solving partners.
Maybe in two or three decades they’ll have figured out how to be better parents, too.

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