Dear Camp Manitou families:
We hope your year is going well and that you are excited for another successful summer at Manitou. It’s been a while since we last sent out a group email or letter to our friends and Manitou family members…but now seems as good of a time as any. We wanted to talk to you about two issues, one is the technological challenge we are all facing, especially now that Facebook is surfacing as the predominant means of communication for many children. Teaching our children how to communicate in an age of instant communication could now be one of the greatest benefits of an overnight summer camp experience.
The second issue is the specific challenge of how to free up summer 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 and the value of parents letting go of their natural desire for instant updates and continual attachment.
Let’s take the issue of parents’ calls to camp first. Of course, any good camp director would agree that sharing information back and forth with parents is important for optimizing children’s overnight summer camp experience. We think it goes without saying that Manitou gives more opportunity for parent input prior to camp through its information and communication process than any camp. The challenge is that summer 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?
Maybe this is the answer: “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”. (A.C.A. magazine 2006). 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.
Overnight Summer camp gives back 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 overnight 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. In fact for so many children, who have been exposed to negative media, whether news, T.V. or the Internet, camp is one of the few places they feel totally safe, safe from danger and safe to be themselves.
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 sometimes face minor challenges at summer camp. 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 185 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 summer 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. And now we are adding a new lofty goal, something that is now a lost art due to the ability to hide behind a computer; that is to teach your children how to communicate face to face, – having the courage to do so with respect and integrity.
To achieve these lofty goals for your child the method that we use at overnight 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. Camp additionally offers something new, healthy communication, without text messaging, emails or facebook. Relationships grow naturally over time, and judgments are not made by a quickly typed sentence or by viewing someone’s photo on facebook.
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. We realize parents think they can have more control of their child’s summer camp experience if they can see or hear from a child instantly but that is a delusion. The fact is the greatest benefit of camp is that children with adult role models and supervision are given an opportunity to learn true coping skills, skills of resilience and independence; kids learn at camp that they are capable and competent.
Remember, if your parents could view daily pictures of you at camp would that have added much to your camp experience or detracted from it? As one parent said to us “it was such a relief to not have photos to view on line. If it’s there I feel like I have to look at them and I am a bad parent if I don’t but the reality is it just creates anxiety. Parents all talk to each compare and compare who has the most pictures, or if my child wasn’t smiling I get all concerned for nothing. I remember one of my kids had way more pictures than the other at my childrens former camp yet it was my child who was in less photos that was happier”. This is a great example of how camps trying to feed into needs of parents forget what is best for the child as kids are forced to pose or lose a spontaneous moment and the so called “popular kids”, ( a term we dislike) know how to cater to the camera rather than truly participate in camp.
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. It is one of the biggest reasons why your children come home from camp feeling so good about themselves.
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.
Looking forward to another terrific Manitou summer!
Mark, Jeff, Dave, Jen & Elijah - Camp Directors