Why It’s Important Camp Is “Away” By Dr. Tracy
As camp parents we all want our kids to grow and thrive while they’re away at camp. Doing so means allowing our kids to be “away” both physically and emotionally, a parental skill rarely, if ever, accessible in our modern lives. In her second blogpost for MCE, Dr. Tracy delves into why it’s an important and how to prepare to “let go” before they’re off at camp.
In my previous post I discussed that I believe in sleepaway camps because they offer a unique arena for children to build independence, self-esteem and resilience. I then promised to give you the tools, tips and strategies to help you and your child prepare for a successful summer. In this post, I will address why camp allows for such incredible personal growth, address a common challenge I see interfering with the potential for growth and offer suggestions for how to prepare yourself as a parent.
Sleepaway camp is an arena for growth because it is away. It is in its “awayness” that camp offers a foundation for unique social-emotional gains. Yet even though camp is physically away, it can be hard for parents to let camp be emotionally away. This is with good reason: We parents have more access than ever to the lives of our children. But read on as I walk you through the preciousness of the camp bubble, explore why it’s hard to let go, and offer some thoughts on how to allow camp to be truly away.
The Camp Bubble
I like to think of camp as a beautiful bubble, protected from the outside world, void of technology and free from pressures that home, school or competitive sports may bring. In the wilderness, away from iPhones and Xboxes, kids truly connect to one another, find new depths of friendship, and report that “camp is where I can be the real me.” This sacred space has never been more valuable than it is today.
Do you know what else is not floating in the camp bubble? Parents. There are no parents to socially engineer activities, sports rosters or playdates. Kids navigate camp’s social world on their own and often reap the benefits. Who hasn’t heard a child say “my camp friends are my best friends?” There are no parents to attempt to prevent challenges or swoop in to rescue a child from an uncomfortable experience. This process, known as snowplow parenting (where parents clear the way of potential obstacles for their children) is the biggest threat to resilience and child development. When the bubble gets penetrated, “awayness” is compromised, and the social-emotional benefits are reduced. When a parent insists that a child be in the same bunk as his best friend, the child never has the chance to prove to herself that he can make new friends in a new environment by herself. When a parent calls the director to make sure that a child has the preferred activities on her schedule, the child never has a chance to learn about her hidden talent for animation. And, when a parent swoops in to resolve complaints in their child’s letter, that child never learns to problem solve on his or her own.
Why is it so hard to let go?
Letting go is hard, because nowhere else do we completely do it. In today’s culture, we are rarely away from our kids: often not physically; definitely not emotionally. As modern parents, we have so much more access to our children than prior generations. We can text (and if not directly with our kids yet, with their teachers, their friends’ parents, and their coaches). We are given windows into our child’s worlds through pictures that are posted from school. There are even GPS trackers for backpacks or watches. Through the quickness and ease of text and email we are conditioned to expect immediate responses to questions or concerns. We rarely have to sit with uncertainty about things happening in our children’s lives. As a result, we have little practice letting go. We are conditioned to intervene. So, in order to preserve the camp bubble, I’m asking parents to consider a seismic mental shift: To sit with uncertainty; to relinquish control; and to appreciate the value in letting our kids do hard things.
How do I let go and help preserve the camp bubble?
What are the tools, tips and strategies to “let go” in the modern world?
First, trust the director and the camp staff. Trust that you have vetted the camp where you are sending your child. Trust that you have chosen a camp and a director whose values align with yours. Trust you have chosen an environment where you know that if there is a true problem that requires your knowledge, assistance, or intervention, camp will let you know. When we feel that trust, we can back off and really let our kids be away.
Second, in order to let go, we also need to understand our own fears and worries. If we can notice when we are feeling anxious and NOT respond to that anxiety by intervening and, instead, sit with it, process it and cope with it, we can help camp be away. When we feel anxious (“I’m worried that my child won’t have friends in her bunk!”) and then intervene (i.e. call the director and request—or perhaps insist—that my child be with her friends), we respond to our own fears of our child’s unhappiness by trying to control the experience. Instead of making that call and trying to control an outcome, practice sitting with the uncertainty and remind yourself that being in challenging situations builds resilience.
Parents: When you can really let go and let camp be away, you benefit too! Take a trip! Connect with your partner! Tackle a project that’s been on the back burner for a while! Practice that “self-care” you’re hearing so much about! Doesn’t that sound like more fun than stressing over homesick letters and calling camp because your child looks sad in a picture?
In upcoming posts, I will continue to guide you to make that mental shift to let camp be away. Coming soon: tips and tools to respond to anxiety in ourselves and our children in order to help preserve that bubble and all of the emotional benefits within it.
About Dr. Tracy Brenner: Dr. Tracy Brenner received her doctorate in Clinical & School Psychology from Yeshiva University’s Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. She completed a post-doctoral fellowship at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt hospital in NYC. Dr. Tracy launched her professional career as the high school psychologist at The Churchill School and Center, an independent school in New York City. At Churchill she counseled students, provided support for parents, collaborated with teachers and administrators, and gave presentations on a variety of mental health topics. Dr. Tracy is currently in private practice in New York and Connecticut, providing individual therapy to adolescents and adults as well as parenting support.