The Dockendorf family minivan pulled into McDonald’s for breakfast. When traveling with our four kids, we’ve learned to start early and make stops efficient. A rare visit to McDonald’s created instant enthusiasm for kids being raised by slow food parents. Inside, Neil Diamond played on the Muzak system and Sirius announced that we were listening to the All Neil Diamond Station. All Neil 24/7. While a little bit of Neil Diamond may be a good thing, I was amazed that his following was large enough to justify an entire Sirius channel. (Bruce Springsteen, I can understand!) Thinking of the “Have it your way” slogan of a McDonald’s competitor, I was reminded that we are now firmly in the personalized, “one to one” marketing world my business school professors warned me about.
Though this current generation wants to “change the world” through their volunteerism, and has many wonderful attributes, sociologists say today’s youth comprise the most self- absorbed generation in history. It’s not entirely their fault; marketers have been working them over since they were babies. They are merely representing a shift in societal attitudes. (Where the preference for “making a good living” now significantly eclipses “living a good and meaningful life” in the Beloit College freshman attitudes survey) Parenting styles have also shifted. Free time for kids to roam freely outdoors without adult supervision has almost disappeared as many kids complete hectic and rigorous activity schedules. In the current age of “competitive parenting,” too much focus on our kids may actually have negative repercussions where the unintended message from all this focus can be “it’s all about you.” Add social media and the ability to broadcast minute details of one’s life to the world and I am actually amazed that this generation is as humble as they are! It makes sense that there is now a clear trend showing that “a community mindset” and “concern for a bigger picture” that was so well modeled by the Greatest Generation is now in free-fall! (Read Bowling Alone by Robert Putnam.)
I propose Adventure Treks as an anecdote and a reality check to the “it’s all about you, world.” Here students meet people from across the country and around the world. We all eat the same thing and face the same challenges. Together through our nightly evening meetings, we work through our issues as we strive to become a community. We all listen to the same music and see the same incredible scenery. Through the shared experience, we all become stronger. We learn from each other, we remember the pleasure of face to face communication, the value of compromise and grow together as we learn to see the world from another’s perspective. When a teen realizes that she “matters” to a group of people and that working together for a common goal and shared success is even more rewarding than individual success, community becomes an important value.
In a world where kids are plugged into their own personal electronic and media world, I can’t imagine anything healthier than a summer spent in the woods living with others in a close community. Great role models are the icing on the cake! The interesting thing is how much kids crave this experience –we are innately hardwired to live in a community, and once teenagers experience the Adventure Treks community, they realize that life is much richer when one doesn’t spend quite as much time in a “me” oriented world. Our graduates say they feel a direct correlation between the community mindset sharpened at Adventure Treks and success at college.
Glad to leave 20 minutes of non-stop Neil Diamond music behind, with huge smiles on the kids’ faces, plastic food in their bellies, the family minivan continued to the Florida Panhandle for spring break.