June 1, 2015

Why is camp so good for kids?

I love my iPhone. I fondle it. I can’t seem to tolerate a nano-second without its electronic stimulation, so in lineups (waiting to pay for almost anything) or even the most minuscule of downtimes, I’m on my cherished device.

Sound familiar?

And we’re immigrants to the internet. Imagine how much more addictive it is for our kids – they’re native.

What happens to kids who live more on than off screen? The same not-so-good things that happen when they’re over-programmed, when they don’t have unstructured play time, when they feel pressured from an early age to get into the right school, when everywhere they go they’re chauffeured by parents.

Yes, kids today are different.

Wouldn’t you be if you were being raised like we’re raising our kids? My parents never had the beginning of an idea about what I was doing when I was out of their sight – which was often. As parents, we have more knowledge of and control over our children than any generation in history. This is not a good thing. And we can’t seem to help it.

We plan their every moment, we supervise their every move, we monitor (and attempt to control) everything from homework to friendships. The result? They don’t get a chance to figure our who they are and what they want. They don’t learn to mess up. We deprive them of the incredible learning that results from failure. As for what author Wendy Mogel famously called “The Blessing of a Skinned Knee,” we worry and over-manage the smallest boo-boo too.

Which makes it so hard for our kids to grow up resourceful and independent.

Which makes camp the only place in their young lives where they can be free-range kids. Childhood kicks it old school at summer camp. It’s the only place where kids get to experience childhood the old-fashioned way. Old-fashioned in the sense of the good stuff that’s been lost. Here’s the old school camp experience list:

  1. Camp is screen-free. At camp kids get to experience an archaic interaction called WIN for short – wireless interpersonal networking. That’s short for talking to each other. And listening. Important life skill? Fun? Relationship-building? We think so.
  2. Put 10 kids in a not-so-roomy cabin together for a month and there’s going to be…. Conflict. Sounds yucky and has a silver lining. Kids today suck at conflict management because they’re deprived of the opportunity (unstructured playtime) to learn it. Minesweeper doesn’t cut it. Kids at camp learn to solve relationship problems and be more flexible friends. They have to.
  3. Kids are outside in nature at camp. They go on canoe trips. They fall asleep to loons’ call and awake to sunrise. This is soul-enriching like nothing in the city can ever be. Nature grows peace in our hearts. Kids today, being raised anxiously in an anxious world, need more of that.
  4. There’s tough stuff at camp. When you’re carrying a pack that’s almost as heavy as you on a portage that feels like forever, you wonder if you can possibly put one foot in front of the other. And then you do. Mom and dad aren’t there to rescue you from your fear of not being able to do it and your reluctance to push yourself. So you do it. Then you become that person – the kid who can.
  5. There’s some freedom at camp. Especially compared to at home. At camp kids walk around on their own. They paddle canoes on their own, sail boats, walk the woodland paths. This is not only nice for them – it’s required – in order to nurture a sense of self-determination and the belief in one’s own independence. This requires the performing of a delicate surgical procedure called a parent-ectomy. It is the central irony of parenting – that only by going away from us can our beloved children become their best and most able selves.
Camp is childhood, old school

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