I have written in the past about my belief in the many benefits of overnight summer camp, and there is tremendous support for this opinion among developmental psychologists. Not only does it give children a sense of independence that they don’t typically have at home, but it can also provide a lifetime of wonderful memories.
Sure there are downsides: homesickness, less sleep, nervousness and anxiety about the unknown, and oh yes, as parents we miss them terribly, but in my opinion, the upsides outweigh any negatives.
I recently read an article by a camp director who made a keen observation, informed by the well-known psychologist and author Wendy Mogel, Ph.D.
During a speech made by Dr. Mogel, this director heard her say that of her daughter’s friends, those who were most successful in their Freshman year of college had all gone to overnight camp as children, while those that really struggled had not.
Think for a moment about the list of downsides I mentioned above.
They could all be directly attributed to one’s first year away at college. All of the uncertainty that comes with being away from home for the very first time can be faced at summer camp where there are typically many supportive adults and counselors to ease them into the transition. Or it can all happen for the first time in a new, more permanent, setting like a dorm or an apartment, with very little adult supervision.
Kids who learn these coping skills early are simply more equipped to handle similar challenges later on. Those kids who return to camp year after year are particularly skilled at adjusting to new and unfamiliar environments, and they can better concentrate on the academic and social hurdles before them.
There are always anecdotal stories of kids who were so overcome by homesickness, or of subpar camps, that fill parents with dread at the thought of sending their precious ones away. This is especially true if a parent had a negative experience at summer camp. But these stories are by far in the minority.
Now, more than ever before, kids need a break from the over parenting and overprotectiveness of our day. They need an opportunity to spread their wings and fly on their own a bit, in a safe and supportive environment other than home. And parents need to start practicing, in small increments of time, how to be away from their children - so in 8 or 10 years when their child leaves for college, they themselves can handle their feelings and support the separation.
One of my favorite sayings that I have heard child development specialist Betsy Brown quote repeatedly is, “Prepare the child for the path, not the path for the child.”
Summer camp is one of the best ways that you can start to prepare your child for the uncertain terrain that lies ahead. It is a gift you can give them now that will provide them with life skills they can take to college and beyond.
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