A Parent’s Perspective on Choosing a Summer Camp
As a parent, I often contemplate if I’m doing all the “right” things to help my children succeed in life. Defining success is something that is a focus in our culture. We use many things to define it – wealth, power, possessions, academic or athletic achievements, careers and more. And, all too often I find myself falling victim to my desire to “measure up” to whatever stick I’ve chosen to focus on at that moment in time.
Yet, at the same time what any of us really want for our children is they become independent, responsible, respectful, contributing members of society. All of which require a focus on long-term goals – making decisions now that shape what we want for them at 30 rather than at 3 or 13.
When I find myself concerned about measuring up, I often ask myself, “what are we giving up for this?” Usually, the list is long and yet, includes the very things that contribute to those long-term goals.
I’m not alone. We’ve all heard the stories and statistics that in our achievement-oriented culture, we’ve reared generation of youth who aren’t fully prepared for adult life.
In a recent article, Andy Pritikin and Peg Smith quote a study from The Partnership for 21st Century Skills, which “has done research showing a big gap in our education system between the ‘3Rs’ and what employers are truly looking for with their new hires.” As a marketing professional, I have observed this with the young people on our team. They have enormous talent and skills, they’re often very responsible, but I observe they lack critical thinking skills, true confidence and they require a tremendous amount of feedback.
So, how do we as parents provide our children with experiences they aren’t gaining in school or on sports fields? How do we counteract the society’s focus on achievement? How do we provide them the skills they really need to be successful in life?
As camp professionals, Pritikin and Smith suggest summer camp might help fill the gap our current culture has created, they say, “Camp is excellent for children’s developing brains. The character traits that parents wish for their kids – independence, confidence, friendship-building, resilience, character, grit – these are real outcomes for kids who have quality camp experiences. The brain functions like a muscle. When it’s used, it grows and strengthens. So, when kids have camp experiences that require them to take risks, be flexible, handle their emotions (especially away from their parents), be persistent to master something, build relationships and so on, it strengthens this important part of the brain for life.”
I’d have to say this has been the case for my own children and their friends. My son was convinced a friend who went to summer camp with him last year would not want to go again because he absolutely HATED the bugs. This is a kid who usually makes up his mind based on one factor and can’t be convinced otherwise. When making plans for this year, much to our surprise, he wants to go to camp! I think his exact words were, “There were lots of things I liked about camp, so I can handle the bugs.” While this may seem simple, it was actually one of those life skills that camp can provide to our children that serve them for a lifetime.
Prikitin and Smith agree, noting “At camp, kids usually feel safe and secure, and the setting is so fun that kids are willing to work harder and tolerate more frustration and setbacks – because they’re having such a good time doing it! This builds character, and helps them for the rest of their lives.”
So, choosing a summer camp that doesn’t provide an academic or athletic advantage may not be on the list of things we MUST do for our children these days. But, maybe it should be. If we’re really thinking about those long-term goals, a summer camp experience does provide our children with life skills they’re not gaining anywhere else in our society today. So, maybe it’s time to consider summer camp an essential part of our summer activity list. Last summer, I chose Camp Hanover for my boys. And, they can’t wait to go back!