In today’s digital, fast-moving, ultra-competitive world, raising kids who grow into happy, independent adults has become more challenging for parents. Quality summer camp programs offer an experience that many parents have found to benefit their child’s development of important life skills. Independence, perseverance, and social skills are just a few of the skills that campers learn in the supportive community of camp. In partnership with parents who are focused on their child’s healthy development, many camp programs offer positive, child-focused outdoor experiences that counteract some of the negative experiences children are facing in school, sports, social life, and cyber space.
Camp took my city kid, who could barely ride a bike, and returned a sailing, camping, climbing, in love with the outdoors young man.
Parenting Challenge #1: Too Much Screen Time, Not Enough Outside Time
In our increasingly digital world, children are spending less time outside and more time in front of screens. The negative impact of our digital lifestyle is evident in kids’ expanding waistlines and lack of interest in being outdoors. Whether texting, posting and reading updates on Facebook, or watching TV, our children are being inundated with digital input. The attraction of the media is hard to resist, so most of us (including us parents) simply succumb to having the near constant presence of our electronics. Many of us find it hard to drag ourselves away from our laptops and smart phones, and often our schedules and lifestyle don’t allow for adequate time to just be outside and enjoy our natural surroundings. Richard Louv coined the term “Nature Deficit Disorder” in his book Last Child in the Woods to describe the alarming trend of children spending less and less time outdoors. Whether due to sensational media accounts of lost hikers that have fanned parental fears, or simply a lack of time in over-scheduled lives, children simply aren’t outside playing as much as they used to.
I’ve learned to face my fears, I’ve tried new things, and I have learned that you don’t always need to have your phone or video games.
-Kimberly, 2012 camper
Camp experiences give kids the opportunity for electronics-free fun in rustic, natural settings. At night, campers count shooting stars and share stories with camp friends, and don’t even think about their TV, video games, and cell phones!
Parenting Challenge #2: Helping Kids Become Independent Adults
Whether due to parenting trends (“helicoptering”) or being so connected to our kids (both in our close relationships and via our digital leashes), children are much less independent than we were at the same age. Twenty years ago, we were babysitting infants at age 13. Now, some of us hire babysitters for our 13 year olds! Ironically, kids are experimenting with drugs, sex, and other high-risk behaviors younger than ever, possibly as a result of feeling so little independence and control in their own lives. College freshman are struggling to adjust to being away from home, and many who start school away from their parents end up back at home. Colleges have staff dedicated to orienting and communicating with parents, who are closely involved from the application process right through to job interviews post college. Many college graduates move back home and slide right into a dependent lifestyle. This “endless adolescence” just isn’t natural. As a society, we are not doing a good job of launching our children into independent adult life.
My shy, quiet nine year old went to camp not knowing a soul. Two weeks later, my daughter came home transformed. She blossomed. She made friends, learned a multitude of activities, felt safe, loved, confident, and happy, really happy. As hard as it was on me, it was all worth it for her. I know this is the single best thing I have ever done for her.
Long Beach, CA
Parents who send their kids to camp understand the value of giving their children early, independent life experiences. While knowing their children are well-supervised in a safe, supportive community, parents feel great about giving their child the opportunity to have a few weeks of independence from them. Children as young as seven years old successfully complete two-week camp stays and feel a great sense of pride and independence as a result. Without having their cell phone to immediately contact their parents with every question and need, kids learn to rely on themselves and seek support from their counselors and cabin mates.
Parenting Challenge #3: Everything’s a Competition
From the first conversation about whose child learned to walk or talk first, parenting today (and life in general) seems to have become one giant competition. Who’s in the top reading group? Who made the “A” soccer team? Who’s top of the class? Who got elected class president? Who got picked for cheer leading?
In trying to help our kids keep up, and leave opportunities open for them, we often end up pushing too hard for our kids to do well in too many areas. Many kids are taking challenging course work at school, competing on high level sports teams with demanding practice schedules, learning a musical instrument, and being involved in clubs (to make sure they are “well rounded”). Often, finding something they are passionate about or truly enjoy goes on the back burner. With little free time to explore and try new things, many kids don’t even know what they like. And, much of the time, kids feel badly because they are not the one picked for the team or deemed “the best.” Most of us aren’t.
Everything you do is made into fun. There is no competitiveness. There is this sense that I am able to let my kids experience some of what it was like to grow up in safer, less congested, slower times, where they have independence and low-tech fun.
Many camp programs offer recreational activities where campers support each other to improve their individual skills and have the unique opportunity to relax and have fun in a non-competitive environment. Whether cheering each other on to get up on water skis or a wake board, or learning to skipper a sailboat together, camp is all about enjoying life, learning new outdoor skills, and enjoying the company of friends.
Parenting Challenge #4: Good Friends are Hard to Find
We all want our children to be happy and find good friends, but it’s often not as easy as it seems. With kids competing for the same spots on teams, and eventually the same spots in colleges, many friendships become competitive. Some children simply don’t have time to spend building strong one-on-one relationships. Often, time spent with friends is only in structured settings like school and sports. Some kids are shy, socially awkward, or get bullied at school or online.
Because of my time at camp, I’ve been more confident in everything I do and I popped out of my shy shell.
-Kinsey, 2012 camper
At summer camp the focus is on building community and helping campers develop close friendships. Campers are assigned to cabin groups of similar-aged kids. Counselors serve as cabin leaders and help campers get to know each other. Team building games at the start of camp, similar to what corporations use to build teamwork, are used to help foster good communication and teamwork. ampers try everything in a supportive, group setting. Through all of their shared experiences, they form close bonds with their camp friends.
Parenting can be a challenge, but a few weeks at a quality summer camp program can really help!