In America we’re living in a time that’s a crisis for traditional childhood. The pervasiveness of media — screens everywhere all the time from phones in everyone’s pockets to the TV on at home, the doc’s office, in stores, and at restaurants — coupled with an incessant stream of commercial messages designed to make our kids feel they aren’t smart enough, pretty enough, strong enough unless they “buy X product,” and then social media to pressure them even more — enough already!
On top of all this, a culture of fear has amped parents up to a hyper-vigilant state that makes every opportunity look partly sinister, filled with devilish characters everywhere you look who are all out to destroy kids, which leads to kids spending most of their time indoors hooked up to screens or hyper-managed in all their activities.
What a sad and vicious cycle. It’s time to take childhood back!
Even though the science amply proves that our kids are suffering horribly from nature deficit disorder, and are overly pressured to “succeed” under a very narrow definition of success, still I hear parents again and again offer a myriad of excuses about why they’re not sending their child to summer camp. As a long-time camp professional and a camp alum, I finally feel I have to take these excuses head on and bust them open so we can really get to the heart of the matter.
My observation leads me to believe that, while everyone is entitled to decide their own summer, some objections to summer camp don’t always pass the sniff test. What follows is a small sampling of excuses that either I’ve gotten, or other camp directors have shared with me, and why we think the parents are missing a bigger picture when using a convenient excuse.
1. Our Vacation Home is Our Summer Camp
If you’ve got a family compound that’s available to you on a river, by the ocean, in the mountains, down a holler, that’s awesome! We love it that you have a homestead where family and extended family can meet, relax, and let the lazy summer unfold. But it’s not a summer camp. It’s family in exile from regular life. But it’s still family.
A strong, well-programmed, nurturing sleepaway summer camp is a place where a child takes a necessary step in finding herself away from mom and dad and the cousins and the generations. Not that she doesn’t totally need and love those things too. But they don’t meet the same need for the child to try her wings outside the watchful gaze of the same relationships and relationship patterns.
Independence is the watchword here. And that’s different at a three-week sleepaway camp than it is in being told it’s okay to go catch frogs in the pond alone. She needs a place that’s all hers, where she can bloom in new ways. The family vacation home will still be there before and after camp. She can do both and you all will be the better for it.
2. We Paid for a Club Membership and Want Our Money’s Worth
There’s nothing like “country club accounting ” or “pool membership accounting” to make folks think that the only way membership pays is if every imagined non-work hour will be spent with the family sitting astride its chlorine glory with nighttime picnics and weekend sun sessions.
But not only does that seldom happen for anyone, it’s just a weak excuse for the kids involved when we compare it to a three-week adventure into learning multiple new whole-body and mind skills, with every day and night immersed in nature, including, ahem, usually a pool and club house but in our case a river and a Play Hall!
The bottom line is that families can take into consideration the arc of the whole summer and everything doesn’t have to be “all-family” time. While one kid is away at camp, the other can get some overdue one-on-one time, and vice versa. If all kids are at camp in an overlapped time somewhere along the line, the parents are given an awesome time to reconnect without all the pressures of parenting, including going swimming without having to supervise young’uns the whole time! Or maybe to get a weekend away themselves.
Family life balance is important, too.
The real issue is that you can choose to make something a meaningful part of your life — the pool/country club/ other memberships — without it having to cancel out a much-needed other part of your child’s life and whole education: summer camp, which provides the resilience, grit, life skills, carefree setting, and media-free experience that no club membership can ever provide.
3. Vacation + Camp Equals a Summer Gone
Some parents share with camp directors that, “We have a family vacation planned, and if she goes away for three weeks, the whole summer is just gone.”
Here’s a tip — no matter what happens on a week-by-week basis, after all the weeks of summer happen, the summer is gone.
You could say, “We have a family vacation planned, and if she goes on a walk every day for another three weeks, the summer is gone.” “…and if she plays outside under the weeping willow for three weeks, the summer is gone.” “…if she goes to her grandmother’s house for three weeks, the summer is gone.”
Summer is summer. It’s finite. It has a certain number of weeks and then it’s gone. The point isn’t to worry about it being “gone” because every year it will eventually be “gone.”
The point is to plan it in a meaningful way, so that summer provides a counterpoint to the rest of the year, a year for most kids of massive academic pressure, intense social and social media pressure, lots of time shuttled in cars, stuck indoors, and never very far from commercial messages and passive screens instead of holistic human experiences that have stood the test of time.
So you’re right, summer is short. Are you prepared to make the most of it for your child by giving her summer camp?
4. What if she Falls in Love with Camp and Wants to Come Back Every Summer?
Busted. Yes, this is the idea, you’re on to us! We want to give children such meaningful, engaging, fun, heartfelt, challenging, robust, and dynamic summers (that are also relaxing, by the way), that in fact they do want to come back.
The upshot here is that if your child is clamoring to return to camp, you will have learned that we are doing something right, and that you made one of the best decisions of your parenting life for your kid!
I’m going to go with, “This is an awesome problem to have!”
5. She Would Miss her Siblings Way Too Much
I’ve certainly seen my fair share of close siblings shedding a few tears when it’s time to say good-bye to a camper. There’s nothing more heartwarming than knowing a family is close, connected, and caring and that the absence of one member will truly be felt.
At the same time, closeness isn’t the only thing that a family has. They also are each individuals and in being the individuals that they are, they bring something unique to the family by getting to explore and expand that.
Kids with healthy relationships to their siblings will likely think of them from time-to-time while at camp (or from home while the other is at camp), but mainly they’ll discover that they’re excited to share what they did once they’re reunited. “Absence makes the heart grow fonder,” doesn’t only apply to romantic love, but also to familial love.
Healthy family lives are enhanced, not diminished, by a regular amount of time spent on a singular pursuit by any given family member. If anything, we bet your kids will be closer and better friends for having had some exciting personal time apart.
Even More Excuses, Excuses…
If you are adamantly against summer camp, you should at least know why and honestly explore why you feel this way.
Did you have a bad camp experience? Are you gripped by stranger-danger? Have you not really researched sleepaway summer camp so are going on very little actual information and evidence? Are you more afraid of being separated from your child than she is of going away? Do you fear you’ll, “lose a part of her?”
I wish I could put all parental worries to rest. As you can see from my blog, I’m not just a camp director pushing camp — I sent my then 6-year-old to his first week-long sleepaway camp, and then back again the next summer in spite of his occasional uncertainty. And he thrived!
I walk my talk in seeing how good camp is for campers and parents and families…
But still you might not be convinced. You may think, “No way is my daughter sleeping anywhere without me.” Well, you could try our Mother-Daughter Weekend to see what camp is all about.
You may worry that camp is for the Kennedys, the upper crust, and that you’re not, “those types of people.” But here I’d say, do put your fears to rest — all kinds of families send their kids to camp. What they have in common isn’t riches, it’s the good sense to know and trust that sleepaway summer camp is an essential part of a child’s whole education, and an important natural counterpart to too little time spent in nature throughout the school year.
Speaking of nature, some people are afraid that camp is, “too much nature” or even “too much time outside, in the sun.” The evidence and science shows otherwise. From behavior to health to imagination, the separation from nature that governs most American kids’ lives is no longer in debate. The question is, How to remedy the absence of nature? Smart, concerned, and caring parents are choosing nature-based sleepaway summer camp as the single best way to give their kids a digital-detox, a circadian reset, and a chance to connect with one of the most powerfully nurturing forces in our lives — nature!
Antidote to Anxiety
Sure, you may worry — How will she fall asleep without me, How will she brush her teeth, Can an 18-year old REALLY care for my kid? What if she misses me? What if she DOESN’T miss me? What will I do without her? And more…
There are things for you to contend with truthfully as a parent, and those things may not be at all about what she needs. It’s important to know the difference so that you can make the best choice for her. Hands down I know that the best choice is sleepaway summer camp. If you want to talk about it, I’m available by email where we can make an appointment for a phone call if you like:
And, if you want to learn more about the merits of sleepaway summer camp, download my FREE e-book, 3 Reasons to Begin Your Child’s Sleepaway Summer Camp Experience Early. It’s a great resource to share with friends, or if you are a first-time camp family and you wonder what sleepaway camp would be like for your child.
— Elizabeth Shreckhise, Director, Camp Alleghany for Girls