I’m a parent of three boys. I love them, they drive me crazy, I get excited about their successes, it hurts to watch them fail, we have great days, we have hard days, sometimes it takes them a thousand tries to learn the lesson, sometimes they get it the first time, and I wouldn’t trade it for a thing. Our children mean the world to us and we would do anything to know that they will be successful and happy in life. We want the best for them, and we are willing to do the work it takes to provide it. That is why I am so grateful my boys have Owatonna.
Years ago when I had just started teaching, I went to a seminar on character education. This has been a topic near and dear to my heart and one I have focused on throughout my adult life. I’ve read books, had deep discussions with peers and colleagues, given talks, written articles, planned activities, and been to more conferences than just that one on this topic, but one of my favorite ideas came from this first one.
I can’t remember who the speaker was, but he made the point that when parents across the globe are asked to finish the sentence, “I want my child to be…” two of the most common answers are successful and happy. I remember sitting there thinking that they are both good answers and wrestling a little bit with which one of the two I would prioritize over the other. On one hand, we want to see our children successful because it means they are making a positive impact on the world. On the other hand, history is littered with people who achieved success but didn’t find happiness, and no parent wants their child to be miserable. That being said, we don’t want them to be happy but unsuccessful either.
As I was debating this in my head during the speaker’s perfectly-timed pause, he continued and made a suggestion. A better answer to the question than these first two options is, “I want my child to be good.” Goodness, after all, is a higher goal than success or happiness, and most of the time goodness leads to both success and happiness. The feeling of peace that came with this answer was a clear sign that it was the higher ideal, because goodness really is Godlikeness. But, how do I make sure my children are good?
If your family is anything like mine, you probably spend the majority of your waking parenting moments dealing with the immediate moment or the near future. What are we having for dinner tonight? Where is Grant’s coat? Who will drive the boys to basketball? What time do we leave? Please stop hitting your brother! Have you brushed your teeth? Did you finish your homework? Did you start your homework? Amidst all of this, Jessica and I look for the teachable moments where we can emphasize a life lesson or redirect behavior in a more productive way. But sitting down, analyzing how we are doing, and intentionally planning how we can help our boys to reach this goal of goodness doesn’t happen as regularly as we would like, and when it does, it always feels like there is a lot to think and pray about.
Ultimately I think that we, and most parents out there, are doing a pretty good job of it, but this is where Camp comes in. Anyone who has ever been a part of a good team knows that a strong partnership is a significant advantage over trying to reach the goal on your own, and when you find a good partner it brings with it an enlarged sense of confidence and excitement that the goal is that much more attainable. At Newfound and Owatonna, we spend our entire year thinking about and planning how to help your children understand the value of goodness. We try to figure out ways to encourage goodness in sports, in the cabin, with their friend groups, and in so many other aspects of life. Not only that, but like you, every one of our counselors and staff begin with the conviction that your son or daughter is good. We know goodness is a part of their unchanging spiritual identity, and we love to help them to see and know this too.
What does that look like at Newfound and Owatonna, you ask? We practice goodness by clearing our place at the table after meals and thanking the kitchen crew as we slide them our dishes. We practice goodness as we walk to and from activity areas by including others in our conversations and not letting people fall behind. We practice goodness by setting boundaries and following directions in activity areas and in the cabin. We look at the examples of goodness in the Bible Lesson each week and discuss how we can follow suit. We practice goodness by using sportsmanship in our games with each other on team day and against other camps during the week. And we even end each day by asking each other what opportunities we had to do good for others so that we get better at recognizing them before they pass us by. The best part of this is that it is all so much fun and so natural at Camp that to the kids it doesn’t feel like three, four, or seven weeks of practicing goodness, but instead it feels like the best part of their year.
These lessons don’t just apply to the campers. This learning continues when the campers come back to Newfound or Owatonna to be counselors-in-training (CIT) and then counselors. They say the best way to prove you have learned something is to teach it to others, and our CITs and counselors spend their summers learning how to teach a love of goodness to their campers. In turn, this only solidifies the importance of goodness in their own lives.
So, if you are the parent of a six- or seven-year-old who is nervous about being away from home for the first time, think about the impact the next 10-plus summers in this environment can have on his love of goodness. If you are the parent of a teenager who is starting to think that staying home with friends seems like the option that will make him the happiest, don’t forget that the goodness practiced at Camp as a camper, CIT, or counselor will provide much more lasting happiness for him than playing Fortnite with his friends or getting his driver’s license now. And if your kids are grown, moved out of the house, and have started their careers, then thank you for your continued support of this important work we are doing.
What we are offering is for Newfound and Owatonna to be your partner as you raise your children. Their inherent goodness is so special, and each one of us feels the natural sense of peace and confidence that comes from doing and being good. As our children (and it works for us too) practice and experience goodness more and more, it crowds out all the other temptations that would try to steer them in different directions, and it leads to the success and happiness we so dearly want them to have. So sign them up for a summer of goodness before our last spots are filled. We hope to see you there!
Reid Charlston, Owatonna Director