Most people probably wouldn’t look forward to giving up their Friday night to hang out with a bunch of teenagers, but I absolutely love hosting Teen Night Out at the YMCA. Throughout the school year, on the third Friday of each month, the Y invites students in grades 6-12 to spend an after hours evening at the Y. The themes of these events typically vary throughout the year. Last year we started a tradition of hosting the last TNO of the year outside, playing outdoor games ranging from frisbee to manhunt in the dark, complete with a campfire and s’mores. This has ended up being one of the most popular of our events.
Last night was our final event of the 2014-2015 school year. We lucked out with gorgeous weather, but a fire ban due to extreme dryness forced us to abandon our camp fire plan. Yet here at the Y, we are resourceful and teens are wonderfully resilient. Our facilities director Tyler hooked us up with a flame-free heat gun to melt our s’mores and once again we were back in action. No fire, no problem!
Last night was filled with fun. We had a great group of pre-teens and teens, and played some of our favorite outdoor games, including ninja, tug-o-war, capture the flag, and manhunt. I know the teens had a great time which is of course the most important thing, but I never fail to leave these nights absolutely loving my job, and that amazes me every time.
I’m awed by how truly incredible the young people in our community are. Too often, we hear that kids can’t self-organize anymore. We fear they can’t play on their own without being watched like a hawk and told every rule to follow. We preoccupy ourselves so much keeping them safe, because we worry they can’t make good decisions on their own. They don’t go outside to play, because outdoor play is no longer embedded in our culture and too often we don’t let them. There is even a name for this phenomenon, nature deficit disorder. Instead, today’s youth interact behind computers and through video games, often absorbed in their smart phones messaging friends on Kik and Snapchat instead of talking to the people next to them.
Last night, for three hours the phones disappeared. Not because I made them, but because their owners elected to put them aside and play. Last night sixth graders and high school seniors formed teams and ran, laughed, and interacted with each other, face to face. They frolicked in a field of wild grass and clover and got a little dirty. No fights, little arguing, no injuries or disciplinary issues. Last night, after pulling out equipment and getting the group started, I didn’t have to do very much at all except be there and enjoy watching our wonderful kids be kids.
Third Friday of the month, every month from October through May, I stay late at the YMCA and spend time with a generation that gives me so much hope for the future. They show each other respect, kindness, and friendship. They encourage, comfort, and support one another. They make me laugh so hard I sometimes cry, and being around them brightens my spirits if I’ve had a day. These are really good kids.
I don’t mind giving up my Friday evenings to be a part of that.