This week, I joined the legion of parents, who kissed their kids goodbye and sent them off to sleep away camp. Like so many others, I was filled with mixed emotions: excitement over the freedom of having a whole eight days to myself before my youngest returned home; and sadness that my girls were gone and experiencing something fun without me.
I remember my first time at sleep away camp like it was yesterday. I was shipped off to Camp Akiba in the Pocono Mountains for an entire summer. When you lived back east, this was the norm and no one batted an eye. I have fond memories of my experience and am grateful for participating in this rite of passage that is so entrenched in our American culture.
Today, camp is different. Campers are more sophisticated and the challenges for counselors are greater than just monitoring the canteens and candy trunks. Nowadays, they are more concerned with stripping campers of their techno mentality and getting back to basics.
While my girls are away at camp, I obviously want them to have fun, but I also secretly have a personal agenda of what I’d like them to gain, and get rid of, during their experience.
1. Gain: Independence. At camp, kids must stick to a schedule. They are obligated to organize their belongings, keep their bunk neat, write letters, participate in activities and basically follow all of the designated camp rules or suffer the consequences. Get Rid Of: Laziness. In an age of concierge parenting, it is very easy for kids to slip into the role of dependent where mom and dad do everything and kids expect us to wait on them hand-and-foot. This attitude is simply unacceptable at camp.
2. Gain: Possibility. Camp is an opportunity for children to discover something about themselves that perhaps previously they thought was not possible. Get Rid Of: Fear. Camp is an incredibly nurturing and safe environment enabling children to try new things, to test limits and to let go of fear. It is an excellent time to break out of their comfort zone and take a few (reasonable) risks.
3. Gain: Friendship. Camp is a wonderful time to solidify old relationships and cultivate new ones. The environment thrives on camaraderie, inclusion and close bonds where fellow campers learn to cooperate with one another, help each other, and encourage fellow campers to be their very best. Get Rid Of: Hostility. At camp there is no tolerance for gossip, slander, or bullying of any kind. On the contrary, it is an ideal environment for practicing kindness, consideration and “The Golden Rule.”
4. Gain: Interaction. Good old-fashioned face-to-face communication is the preferred method of communication at camp. This is an excellent opportunity for kids to practice making eye contact and learning the subtleties of reading facial expressions and body language. Get Rid Of: Technology. No television, no smart phones, no computers of any kind are accessible at camp. There is nothing to distract campers except the sounds of nature and possibly a little Justin Bieber playing on the counselor’s CD players.
5. Gain: Quiet Time. At camp, there is an enforced period daily where kids are encouraged to quietly engage in an activity on their own without verbal exchange. This allows the mind to settle down so that introspection can take place. Get Rid Of: Stimulation. Our children are in need of constant stimulation and it is to their detriment. They expect to be entertained 24/7 and as a result they are losing important self-soothing skills, as well as the ability to discover and develop their own talents and interests.
Like so many famous camp movies from “Little Darlings” to “Parent Trap” and “Camp Rock,” one thing’s for sure, my girls will be gaining everlasting memories. Whether participating in a Friday night talent show, dancing to music in their bunk with friends, or playing color war on the field, they are sure to come away with a smile having achieved a greater sense of self and a newfound confidence that will stay with them forever.