Last month on the blog, we talked about how our big why became really clear during the pandemic. Why does Camp Fire exist? Because growing up is hard.
If you’re an adult reading this, you remember how it was. Now multiply that by a global pandemic, social media pressure and climate change anxiety! If you’re a young person reading this, well, you’re likely facing challenges us olds never dreamed of (and maybe won’t ever fully understand).
What do we do about it? We connect young people to the outdoors, to others and to themselves. And every year (since 1997), we host Absolutely Incredible Kid Day® to remind ourselves how important it is to tell young people they matter.
And settle in for a conversation with some Camp Fire thinkers about why #KidDay #AIKD might matter more than ever this year.
LaShee Thomas is Camp Fire’s Manager of Executive Operations and a passionate advocate for both the organization and young people. Quincy Henry co-founded Campfire Coffee Co. in Tacoma, Washington, and works to open access to the outdoors for BIPOC and underserved communities. Our organizations found each other when we discovered our similar names and missions; now we collaborate on a Spark Roast coffee fundraiser to directly support kids in Camp Fire communities. Finally, Jason Peerce is our national headquarter’s Manager of Training and Development and a board member of On Our Sleeves, a nonprofit that breaks childhood mental health stigmas. We reached out to get their thoughts on why this year’s #AIKD is especially important.
What do you think is particularly hard about growing up right now?
Lashee: Youth have higher levels of stress due to social norms. Add in the pandemic, the political climate, at-home learning, and lockdowns, and young people have been forced to be in more typically adult-structured conversations than they did in the past. I believe that youth today are more aware and want to challenge the social norms that have existed for many years. The advancement and access to technology is another layer because young people can now “get answers” with a click of their fingers.
Quincy: What a time to grow up, right? I think it’s fair to assume that every generation has had its own set of unique circumstances to deal with. I remember growing up in the 80s/90s, it was all about avoiding peer pressure and the DARE campaigns. Video games and rap music were public enemy #1. For my parents in the 50s and 60s, it was civil rights and rock and roll music. But the generation now is facing some obstacles that not even their parents can prepare them for, and I think that’s what makes growing up now particularly difficult. We’re all navigating the pandemic, economic disparities, burnout and more as a whole society.
What’s worse now is this generation of kids don’t have some of the outlets past generations have had. Social activities are limited due to safety concerns—not just COVID but also the amount of danger we’re now aware surrounds our communities. Those social interactions are so important, and they’re essentially gone.
We all had peer pressure growing up where, you know, a friend tries to get you to do something you shouldn’t do, and you could easily rebuff their advances. But the amount of societal pressure these kids have today is, in my opinion, far more detrimental. There’s a constant pressure to gain acceptance through likes and shares and to master the newest challenge. Every little thing you do becomes “content” for whatever platform, and if that isn’t enough, I think it’s even more challenging that this all comes from an intangible source. It’s no longer just a couple of friends trying to persuade you to do something you may or may not want to do, it’s every viral tweet, every Instagram influencer, every news article pushing something, whatever keeps our phones buzzing. I believe it leads to burnout in everyone but especially in the youth.
Jason: I think today’s young people have a particularly hard time because of social media. There are still many of the common difficulties with growing up—worries about being good in school, being good at sports, making and keeping friends, etc.—but social media puts an immense amount of pressure on young people to be “something else.” I can’t relate to that difficulty, even as a millennial, because it’s so new and constantly shifting that the expectations are so different. This means that young people don’t have support for helping them navigate these strange new waters.
In your opinion, how does Camp Fire—and Campfire Coffee Co. and On Our Sleeves, too—help make growing up easier?
Lashee: Camp Fire is truly a place where young people can unplug from the levels of stress faced in their day-to-day lives, all while bringing their whole selves to our programs. Camp Fire connects young people to themselves, nature, and the outdoors. Camp Fire makes growing up easier because it is a place for young people to challenge themselves through self-discovery, exploring potential interests, and trying new things.
Quincy: What I really love about the work we do is that we’re aligned in nurturing the things that matter most: people and the environment. Connecting these two results in young people developing an appreciation for the natural world around them. It leads to building positive self-images and exploration of identity through a framework that is free from all of the pressures and obstacles mentioned in the answer to the first question. With the work we do, I believe relationships with oneself and others can be built in such a way that the attributes that develop stick for a lifetime. Things like empathy, compassion, confidence and curiosity are things that I developed (and I know many of my friends developed) in part thanks to time spent in outdoor education and camps. In an era where the youth have so many pressures on them and are bombarded with messaging that can make them feel left out or less than, this work absolutely can help kids grow up easier.
Jason: Camp Fire makes growing up easier by providing a safe and supportive environment where kids can just be themselves without fear of being judged or rejected. They are accepted for who they are and have the freedom to develop their identity while connecting with both peers and supportive adults that are there for them. On Our Sleeves has some really good resources to help youth with mental health. Mental health is—in my opinion—the single biggest issue that young people face today.
What messages do you think young people need to hear most right now?
Lashee: Camp Fire sees you, we hear you, and we support you!
Quincy: That you are enough. Point blank. And that your world, your society, your community benefit from you being your true, authentic self. Follow your curiosity. Everyone is told to “follow their passion,” but maybe you don’t have one. When I was a kid I developed a passion for music, and I followed it and pursued it until it became a career. Unexpectedly and thankfully, it led me to realize that, more important than having a “passion” for one thing, is having a lot of things I was curious about. Nurturing those things just as much as I did music has led to amazing experiences and a wealth of knowledge. When you’re always curious, you’ll never run out of things to explore—and a life of exploration is a life worth living.
Jason: Just that they’re not alone. No matter how they feel or what circumstances they’re in, they’re not alone.