Warm Weather, Cold Teen Feet

Editor’s Note: Part one of this topic was geared toward younger or newer campers who may be starting to feel anxious about coming back to camp or going to camp for the first time: Warm Weather, Cold Feet. This post is geared to your older daughter and how to help her through any changes she’s feeling about camp. 

Warm Weather, Cold Teen Feet

Your daughter has spent several summers at camp and there often comes a time when she might feel she’s “been there, done that.”

She might be wondering about trying something different after many summers away from home, especially if she’s become enticed by what other friends are doing, even if those things are not normally her own personal preference. Even if camp has reliably been her personal preference!

Maybe your camper has even been with ‘Ghany for four summers, making her, in insider ‘Ghany vernacular, “A 4-year Figaro Flip Flop.” She has best friends across the country, they share inside jokes that you’ll never understand because they are “oh-so-Ghany” jokes. She rolls her eyes at you and says, “Mom, it’s a camp thing, you wouldn’t know.”

This reality has been her life for many summers of her life. It’s personal. It’s passionate. It’s perfect. It’s camp!

But then she comes to you completely out of the blue on an apparently random winter or spring day saying she doesn’t want to go to camp this summer. You’re thinking:

Doesn’t want to go to camp? Is this my real kid? Her? She doesn’t want to go? Wha, wha, wha, what?????

You’re understandably confused. You’re baffled. You’re completely shocked. You’re thinking,

What? Isn’t camp your life? I’ve endured summer after summer of car rides home with you sobbing your eyes out about leaving camp. An ice cream cone on the way home didn’t make much of a dent in those post-camp blues. Every dinner for three weeks afterwards was all camp, all the time.

I’ve seen you spend hours texting or talking to camp friends and listened attentively as you caught me up on their lives — and I feel like I know them, too!

Now you say you don’t want to go? What’s changed? What’s going on?

And All The Camp Parents Held Their Collective Breath

Parents and guardians, let me give you a gentle piece of camp director advice:  This. Is. Normal.

It’s so predictable it’s like the cycles of the seasons happening right on cue. And you don’t need to panic. Just take that deep breath and don’t jump to a reaction or a decision right away. This too shall pass.

Sure, you’ll likely consider withdrawing your daughter, especially if she has a good excuse like that she wants to get a job and make money. Or try something new and adventurous! Maybe go on a mission trip, join a family vacation, take summer school courses to get ahead. These are actually good reasons. No wonder she’s thinking about it!

Or maybe her reasons are a little less lofty.

Maybe she really, really, really doesn’t want to give up her phone. Maybe camp doesn’t count as much if it can’t be Instagrammed. Maybe she just wants to “hang.” To hang with friends and her group or a boyfriend and not miss out on what’s going on at home.

Friends are a big influence, and it’s easy for the still-developing teen brain to get swept away with peer pressure and friends and “FOMO” — fear of missing out. And then, thinking about all that PLUS giving up her phone — “Mom, that’s like, torture, okay, and torture is illegal!”

I remember that in my pre-teen years I went through a couple of phases of wanting very badly to quit ballet. My mom simply wouldn’t let me. Yes, yes, I admit (I love you Mom but I admit) that I thought she was evil at times for making me continue ballet. But…then I got over what I can see now was just a hump. By middle school ballet became a huge passion of mine which in ways lasts even today (enjoying dance, our dance program, local dance, etc.) and I am SO HAPPY that my mom didn’t let me quit.

I know this is the same story of the temptation to quit camp that some campers feel today.

Camp As The Greater Good

There’s nothing that will tug on your heartstrings like a passionate plea for what she seems to want — or NOT want. We parents just want to give and do for our kids in ways that we believe will make them happy. We certainly don’t want to do anything that we fear will actually make them miserable. Or truly, materially hold them back.

And we are, in fact, preparing them to be decision makers about their own options. The question is, What is the right balance here for them and for you in your continuing role as a parent or guardian.

A 12- to 17-year-old feels things intensely. But what they lack, the one thing they truly lack is the arc of perspective — being able to look back at a life well lived and see the value in things. They are in the thick of it, in the jungle of hormones and of being dazzled by the world and of this moment RIGHT NOW!

But you’ve lived a bit. You actually have “been there done that” but in the better way — recognizing what has substance and what is fleeting. What truly nourishes us and feeds us and what fascinates us for a metaphorical second, like the latest viral social media post — charming, but fleeting and most of the time, forgotten by tomorrow.

And that’s where yes, there’s input from your daughter. But ultimately you are still making parental decisions based on that larger body of knowledge and perspective that YOU bring to the table. And finding a way to unite your guidance with the things still deeply in her heart.

So while it may seem to be a loving response to drop camp based on her recent mood because you feel you’re respecting her choices and not pushing her into something, there may be a way to help steer her to that same sense of something more valuable over something more fleeting, helping you both get what you really want — that is, something meaningful, fun, and personal.

All this is not to mention that camp builds on the summer before, each successive age-cohort program taking her deeper into the overall experience as well as more deeply into relationships, goals, and accomplishments. There is a trajectory to our programming that remains a compliment to her school education through the arc of that school education.

And while you likely understand this, it’s important that she is convinced that she still needs camp, too.

Let’s Rap

The best way to find out what’s going on with your camper is just to have casual, no-pressure conversations about her thoughts as well as her memories. Once you know what she’s thinking about in NOT wanting to go to camp, you can discuss what she would also miss about camp if she wasn’t there.

Talk to her about the impact camp has made on her over the years. Recall the friends that she only gets to see at camp and what role they’ve played in helping her become who she is and what she brings home from camp in her heart each summer.

Ask her about what she remembers most about camp in different areas, like friends, goals, fun, and personal changes.

Reflect on the leaps in personal growth she’s made each summer and how that made her excited for sports or school or a project and even in relationships with friends and others once she was back at home — there’s nothing like camp for building true inner confidence away from prying eyes and peer pressure and gossip!

Spend some time reminiscing about her favorite parts of camp. Music and songs are often a big influence so have her think about or sing or listen to favorite camp songs.

Look back at pictures. Often girls say they look at themselves at camp, no makeup, nothing fancy, and see their best, happiest, truest self. Find some of those pictures — ask her if she wants to be that girl again?

Have your daughter remember a hilarious moment with friends and how hard she laughed. Remind her that those types of inside jokes with camp friends can only really happen in person, in your tent, organically at camp, NOT over text.

In our world, too much is disposable and forgettable. You have to BE THERE to keep things alive. Returning to camp keeps valuable connections and relationships alive into the next stage of your life. So many alumnae talk about the lifelong nature of camp friends. Don’t let her be so ready to toss that aside because of one summer’s whims. Instead, teach her to cultivate what is valuable so that it will remain valuable.

Ask her about those nights at Vespers or Campfire. Did she sing, “Here’s a Health” with her arms linked with her tentmates as the fire burned low and the sun set over the Greenbrier? Ask her to tell you about that.

Take her back to the last night of the Term, hugging her camp friends dearly, tears streaming down her face as she thought about having to say goodbye to camp friends until next summer

Sometimes only a little reminder will light the fire of real memory in her and she too will see that this hasn’t just been some casual summer thing, but rather it’s been the story of her life.

No boyfriend or beach trip or even extra cash for a new phone will reach to the depth and meaning of another summer at camp, another part of her unfolding education throughout the year, and of her WHOLE self.

And Then There’s Us

You might be surprised to learn this but each camper is unique and special to us, too. We’re monitoring her growth and development, who she’s becoming. She is NOT just a number to us. She is a 100% an individual person to us. We know her name, we know her face, and we will notice and feel it if she’s not there.

We don’t want to miss out on her or her growing and changing story or who she’s becoming. She’s part of the ‘Ghany family and we will truly miss her if she’s not with us at camp.

We want her to one day apply to be a Junior Counselor, or come back as a Counselor. We want her in the Alumni Association one day.

She can’t see it now but 20 years into the future we want her to bring her significant other down for Family Camp and visit us for L.O.L. Alumni Weekend and tell her daughter about, “My summers on the Greenbrier River.”

Help her get there, even if she can’t see that now.

Questions? Contact me. I’m happy to talk!

— Elizabeth Shreckhise, Director, Camp Alleghany for Girls