What I am about to say might make you feel defensive; it might even make you mad; or it might make you smile in agreement; but however, it makes you feel, please read on. Here it is: “Your child needs to go to camp; every child needs to go to camp; all children deserve summer camp.”
While that may seem like easy words coming from a camp director, believe me it is not. While I do believe every child should go to camp, I am also a mother, and as a mother, I do not believe in telling other mothers or parents what is best for their own child.
But, I remembered something this weekend, while listening to an incredible keynote speech, delivered by Alyson Schafer, psychotherapist and parenting expert at alysonschafer.com. She spoke on “How Camp life is changing millennial children.” I remembered that while I don’t need to tell parents what to do, I do need to speak up about the importance of summer Camp. I am in a unique position to speak out for the sake of our children who often don’t speak out for themselves; to speak out for our children who are doing what humans do best—adapting to their current environment.
Like it or not, our children are learning to survive an environment of near constant connection to technology and social networks and near constant disconnect to nature and stillness, and even aloneness. Is this what we want for our kids? Where is our child’s oasis? What space do our children have where disconnect is the only option? Isn’t it good for our children to be alone with themselves? Isn’t boredom the catalyst to creativity? Isn’t quietude the space where we learn about ourselves?
When we grew up, school bullies went home at 3:15 and weren’t to fear again until the next day. Social interactions with friends ended when you got off the bus, and we had a place of respite from social pressures within the safety of our home—no email, no Facebook, no Twitter, no SnapJack—just our family, a phone line, and little television. Today, technology, and therefore social connection and social pressures follow us everywhere we go and right up until we go to bed. And first thing in the morning, they are there again!
It is no small coincidence that anxiety is now the number one medical diagnosis in children, and it is increasing at an astounding rate. Many of today’s children are more scheduled than Santa Claus on Christmas Eve. And while it appears that our capable and adaptable kids are handling it quite well, the statistics beg to differ. Our children require a break. They need a technology free and pressure free oasis.
Children and parents alike have become so reliant on connectivity to each other it seems unimaginable to separate for weeks at a time and to not send a text each time we have a quick thought to share: “don’t forget I want spaghetti for dinner” or “ your basketball jersey is in the dryer.” But we have to step back, and ask ourselves how this constant tether between parent and child or friend and friend impacts our social and emotional development.
Is there a part of you that is afraid to send your child away? Do you fear your child will struggle? Well, they will, and that is exactly the beauty in going away from home! In some ways, modern life is too easy as everything is accessible all the time. Even our decision making process is easier as choices are quickly validated by sending a text to your family or a friend.
And whether we like it or not, a little struggle is good for our children; they actually want to struggle. A little sadness, a little challenge, even a little pain is how they build their own sense of self. Getting through a few days of homesickness shows the child that they are strong and capable. Socializing face to face makes us responsible for our words, actions, and emotions. Deciding to wear a t-shirt to the campfire and getting eaten alive by mosquitoes helps the child understand the effect of his own choices. Our children own those experiences for themselves.
So, why should your child go to summer camp? Well here is a shocking statistic: the average child receives over 200 compliancy commands per day—clean up your room, don’t be late for school, finish your dinner, write that thank you note, etc…(with three children myself, I might even hit 300 commands per day!). The fact is children are dying to make their own decisions. They want to find their own way. They even want to take a break from their cell phones and ipads. It is true! I’ve seen it with my own eyes.
And that freedom is what summer camp provides—a safe space for children to make independent choices; a technology-free oasis where social interactions are face to face, in real-time, and without misconstrued feelings; and a true reconnect of our children’s minds and bodies to their natural state. We all struggle with letting go, but how great is it to really miss your child? Or better yet, to have your child really miss you?