Building character

Published 12:00 am Monday, September 30, 2002

Need a definition of grit? Watch the junior and senior high school students in a rodeo. There is nothing like watching an 80-pound 12-year-old boy wrestle a 150-pound protesting calf to the ground, tie it up, and walk away in one piece to define determination. Watch an eight-year-old girl wrestle a recalcitrant pony around the barrels, with no hope of scoring, much less winning, but completing the course anyway. That is grit.

Teenagers make the news far too often these days in a negative light – teen pregnancies, teen drop-out rates, teen violence - until the public opinion of our next generation grows jaundiced, expecting everyone between the ages of 12 and 20 to be a criminal in the making. The causes are varied, ranging from broken homes to drugs, poverty to apathy.

But public opinion is often skewed by too much bad press and not enough good press. For every teen in trouble, there are those who spend their afternoons shoveling out stalls, practicing roping, riding, sweating, and working at a project that is building character along with muscle. According to Poor Richard, "Idle hands are the devil's workshop" - meaning the more free, unsupervised time these young people have, the more trouble they are likely to find. There is a lot of truth in that, but there is more truth in the power of family.

What was the source of the determination so evident in these young competitors? Family – parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, sitting in the stands and cheering them on. The ones who foot the feed bill, who take time out of their own lives to haul livestock across the state, and provide the foundation of support and encouragement - they share the credit for their children's grit.

Rodeo is the quintessential American sport. It involves the elemental struggle of man against nature and man against himself, as he tries to improve his own skills, his own time, his own talent. It is a living history of our frontier days and an emblem of the independent spirit that was forged in that disappearing frontier. As families tend the stock, travel to the rodeos, and work, they are tending and traveling and working together - another facet of American life that is in danger of disappearing.

It doesn't have to be rodeo. Scouting, baseball, swim team, even something as ordinary as a game night once a week - all can provide bonding times and building times with our youth, creating a common ground for communication and a common interest for cooperation. Just sitting at the table, doing your own household paperwork while the child does his homework, provides a silent, but real support, as well as a good example.

By letting a child know you are interested in his life and want to participate, even if it is only by sitting in the stands and cheering, you are letting a child know you care, and that caring is one more solid rock for that child's foundation. You child might not have to wrestle calves to the ground, but he may have to wrestle with more serious issues as peer pressures and society's problems work their way into his life. Show your support, and like those young cowboys, he will have the grit to take on the world.