CEO: Does Your Kid Need to Visit Willy Wonka?

Nov 28, 2017, 14:24 PM by Chris Coker

I had surgery on my leg last month and spent a lot of time on the couch getting fatter. While I was laid up, I watched Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory, the new one with Johnny Depp, not Gene Wilder. We all know the story: It is a cautionary tale of a bunch of kids with issues created by over indulgent parents. They spend the movie getting culled from the tour like they were in the Hunger Games. In the case of Augustus, he was hungry all the time and then he got his own drinking from the chocolate river. 

The Wonka story is all about behavior, parenting and rule following. The kids think that they are better than the rules, that they are special, and the parents buy into their miss-begotten beliefs and allow the kids to have atrocious behavior. Ultimately, the kids pay for this in various ways and are the actual victims. Of course, the parents blame Willie Wonka, instead of themselves or their kids. They "will sue” him and make sure he is “run out of town on a rail” and so on. They engage in the usual blather that makes all of us roll our eyes and feel bad for the kids, who will have a hard time functioning in the real world, outside of their parents' influence. 

Those of us who live in this area see this type of behavior because of the affluence we are exposed to. Let me make something clear at this juncture, there is nothing wrong with being affluent. This is truly the land of opportunity, and that's a wonderful thing. However, affluence with values should be the goal. Remember Stan Lee’s credo “with great power comes great responsibility.” Boulder County has salaries that are 8.9% higher than the rest of the state. We — as a community — have great power.

Are we teaching our kids to have great responsibility? 

Here is why I ask this question now. We are in the holiday season, when we are supposed to give thanks, count our blessings and provide selflessly to those who are less fortunate. 

Do we do all three? Do your kids know how good they have it? Do you role model it?

As parents, we need to think about these questions in a real way. We need to consider a service learning trip for our children. Spending one day at the soup kitchen serving meals does not cut it, throwing some canned food into a bag and giving it to the food bank is not good enough.

Our kids are surrounded by so much wealth that they need to be immersed in the opposite to give them perspective. Our Y offers 15 high school kids the opportunity each year to work in an orphanage in a high poverty area of Peru as a service learning trip. Find information for the 2018 Global Teen Leadership Program here. The teens who have participated in the program have all reported that the trip to Peru is life changing for them.

I am not trying to sell you on this specific trip (even though it is awesome), but these types of experiences are offered by many trusted organizations. I am sure you can find one that fits your needs.

I have not found a study that does not tout the benefits of service learning. Also, you can do these experiences as a family. Shared experiences are great for families and truly build memories. This could be a much more impactful present than a gift card or a new Xbox for your teen. If you are not ready to send your child on a mission trip, consider a wilderness program for this summer — where they are forced to look inwardly at themselves and gain perspective from kids who are very different. A wilderness-based camp or a leader in training or a Counselor in Training program will test them and facilitate growth. This could be a good interim step before a service learning trip. 

Now is the perfect time to consider a life-changing experience for your child. Give them perspective, open their heart wider, show them how fortunate we are to live where we live. Give them an experience like this for the holidays as a gift. They will remember it for their entire life, and it can positively impact them and help guide them into the future. If you want help finding a program, don’t hesitate to contact me and I will help you figure out what would fit best for your family. 


Thank You, 
Chris Coker 
CEO/President of YMCA of Boulder Valley