Sending your child to camp for the first time|
is a leap of faith
Having just returned from another interesting camping conference, we want to share with you two significant themes that were echoed repeatedly in these meetings as well as in parenting and camping magazines of late. The first issue is the general challenge of not succumbing to the age of instant communication. The second issue is the specific challenge of how to free up camp director/ head staff time returning calls to parents. Ironically both issues overlap when we think about the context of a child's summer at camp.
Let's take the issue of parents' calls to camp first. Each year when we meet at camping conferences it appears camp directors echo the same sentiment. “Parents during the summer keep calling us when there is no need for the call and it did not used to be that way.” As one Camp Director remarked, “ When my father was running this camp if one parent called a session it was a lot. Now I have 5-10 calls a day and almost every single one is unnecessary.”
Of course, any good camp director would agree that sharing information back and forth with parents is important for optimizing children's summer camp experience. Certainly, if a parent has reason for concern (and/or relevant information to share), then, communication needs to occur right away. And for any new camper we make sure we phone the parent to give them an update on how they are doing. The challenge is that camp directors and their head staff are having a difficult time balancing the needs of parents to hear from us, with the time needed to constantly supervise and support campers. But the most interesting question is why was this challenge not an issue 30 years ago?
This month's issue of the American Camping Association magazine contained a realistic answer to this very question. This article stated, “It used to be the job of parents to expose their children to the outside world but today it appears it is just as important to protect our children from the outside world”. So we recognize that this balancing act; between parents' needs for reassurance in an era of instant gratification, fear and insecurity with our need to stay entirely focused on the well being of each and every camper.
Camp gives back what to our kids what we are forced to take away from them in the city; a measure of freedom and independence. Perhaps just as important it gives back to parents what they need: a break from the demands of having to constantly shield their kids from possible dangers. Once you have made the decision to send your kids to camp we hope you will relish that opportunity for yourselves and relax, and let us take over the ultimate responsibility of providing a safe, supportive, and enriching environment for your child.
Having said that, we know how hard it is for all of us, as parents, to change gears and resist the temptation to affect your child's every day. But resisting the temptation is usually the best way to benefit your child. Kids face minor challenges at camp sometimes. Each time they surmount a hurdle without relying on you they grow immensely. Please remember that campers can learn quickly to rely upon those around them in camp (their friends and most importantly 165 mature role models) and, by so doing, your child will be far stronger emotionally, far more independent, resilient and happy. It's true! A dose of self-reliance and independence is just about the best antidote around for the anxiety and stress that surrounds kids these days.
Remember that we share the same lofty goals for raising kids in these difficult times that you do. We wish to support you as parents, indeed to partner with you, to build competent, compassionate and resilient children. At camp our goals are for each and every camper to be healthy; physically, emotionally and spiritually. Each camper is expected to make enduring and lasting friendships, develop independence, act in a respectful manner, behave unselfishly, appreciate the natural environment, learn new skills in arts, sports and outdoor adventure, gain a sense of self worth and community responsibility while developing self confidence and self esteem.
To achieve these lofty goals for your child the method that that we use at camp is not a high-tech one: it's technology free and it's interpersonal. It has the advantage of being reliable, virus free, and is proven to work better than any other; the technology works because it allows immediate and nurturing conversation between campers and between campers and staff. It is hands-on discovery and hands-on communication allowing for the magic of spontaneous moments.
The electronic technologies, whether they be on-site photos, or ongoing communication of any nature, only feed the need for instant gratification. And they do so at an important expense. They do not allow us as camp directors to spend time doing what we do best. To wait a few days for a traditional letter gives parents and children time to reflect, and gives kids a chance to form new relationships, and solve problems independently.
So we don't allow campers to use the phone, or email. Instead we help teach your children how to solve their own problems. Being able to ask for help, say your needs and get support is a grand life skill, one best learned by doing. Its one of the biggest reasons why your children come home from camp feeling so good about themselves. But this only works because we have a very mature staff, one where historically over one third of them are college graduates! It only works because we have six Camp Directors of parent age- it only works because we have incredible systems in place and a pre camp and city training process that is critical to our success.
Sending your child away to summer camp for the first time requires a leap of faith, a decision to entrust that which is most precious in your life to other people. It's hard to do and now we understand why; because we as parents are used to protecting our children from the outside when, in fact, camp's real purpose is to expose them to the magic of what the world has to offer. Ironically if there ever was a need for camp, it's now more than ever.