Michelle Martin

Sign me up

Sunday, March 20, 2016

It’s contract signing season. No, I don’t mean when high school athletes sign letters of intent to accept athletic scholarships to colleges, or when professional athletes who are drafted sign with their new teams.

I don’t even mean when parents sign contracts to send their children and tuition money to Catholic schools for the following year, although that’s happening right about now as well.

This is the season to sign behavior contracts for kids who will participate in summer camps, spelling out what expectations are and what will happen if those expectations are not met. This year, both Frank and Teresa had to sign behavior contracts. Caroline, who just turned 18 and can now sign a legally binding contract, did not, although she has in the past.

For Frank, it’s old hat. He’s been signing behavior contracts for camps and sports teams and clubs for years. For Teresa, this was maybe the second one she signed. I’m pretty sure it’s the first one she was able to write her last name on, though.

Of course these contracts aren’t really enforceable on children; they are there to give parents notice that their children may be disciplined or removed from the program if they do not meet certain behavior standards, especially those that would endanger other children. Since I don’t want anyone hurting my kids, I’m all in favor of that.

I appreciate that the contracts tend to be written in positive language, as well, directing children to “be kind,” “be respectful” and “be safe,” and I especially liked that Teresa’s day-camp behavior contract asked parents to talk to their kids about what those terms meant, and to come up with and write down ways children could show respect and kindness to their peers and counselors.

Still, I’m not sure a contract — generally understood as a formal agreement to exchange goods and services — is the best way to get the message across. Is being kind something that is exchanged? Or is it something that is given? If no one gives me anything back, do I still have to be respectful?

Maybe it would be better to teach our children to be kind because that is good, because being kind and compassionate is what is expected of them. Be respectful where respect is due — and it is due to everyone. Be safe for your own good and the good of those around you.

Someone who sees everything as a contract, who constantly asks, “What do I get out of this?”, will, I fear, miss the point of salvation. Salvation is God’s gift to us, a gift that came without a price tag, but that doesn’t mean that we can treat it as if it has no value. Our job is to share that gift, to offer it freely, in kindness and compassion, and to teach our children to do the same.


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