Mention the words ‘summer camp’ and most people think of campfire ghost stories, tug-of-war competitions, horseback riding, water sports, and hikes through the woods. But how many parents recognize the big benefits of summer camp and the important life lessons and that come with packing your kids off to camp?
If you’re on the fence about summer camp for your child or are a fan of camps and want to feel even better about your choices, we’ve compiled a list of the top benefits your child will get out of this year’s summer camp experience.
It’s often said that today’s children are overly coddled by helicopter parents who seek to bubblewrap all of the world’s hard edges lest their children suffer injury or misfortune. The result is a generation of kids who too easily crumble when life inevitably proves itself unfair.
Psychologist Michael Ungar suggests that the best summer camps are veritable gold mines for teaching kids – particularly teens – to be resilient. In particular, he says camps that make kids “put away the makeup, stash the [smartphones], get a little dirty and even a little frustrated while having fun and making new friends, are the kinds of camps that offer children the best of what they need.”
We’ve hit on this one before, but given the growing concerns over kids’ addiction to digital screens and social media, summer camp is one of the very few places parents can send their kids confident they’ll be separated from their smartphones and the Internet. The key is to choose a camp with a strict digital-free mindset.
According to Tom Rosenberg, director of the American Camp Association (ACA), “only 17 percent of ACA-accredited camps allow access to the Internet on a scheduled basis, and only 10 percent allow access to cellphones.” And given that even parents are now attending ‘digital detox’ camps, it goes without saying that younger minds could use the same help.
It’s worth noting that the biggest challenge to the no-smartphone camp rules are parents themselves. (See helicopter parenting above.)
No More Comfort Zones
Removed from the familiar confines of their homes, neighborhoods, and digital domains, kids at summer camp are forced to adapt and attempt new experiences. For many kids, summer camp may be the first time they’ve paddled a boat, ridden a horse, climbed a rope ladder, built a campfire, or even hiked through an unfamiliar forest.
“An unpleasant or unfamiliar situation at camp gives a child the opportunity to grow in ways he never would in his comfort zone,” says teen mentor, Todd Kestin. And when kids, particularly teens, “learn to push themselves, they begin to accumulate understanding of what it takes to be a productive, independent adult.”
Today’s children come of age with a skewed belief that ‘social networking’ is something that is done online, without actual eye contact or mental or physical collaboration. Summer camp corrects this by removing kids from their familiar networks and forcing them to forge new relationships without digital devices.
Specifically, kids in summer camp “learn to navigate through group dynamics, to barter, to keep one another happy, to be sensitive and support a friend who’s sad,” says James Spearin, YMCA’s senior vice president of youth development. “These skills transfer and build adults with strong character and leadership.”
Appreciate a 24-Hour Day
We couldn’t find much in the way of research on this one, but we’re going to add that summer camp – much like any form of disconnected, outdoor camping or hiking – teaches kids the value of a full 24-hour day. Without the endless distractions of the Internet, smartphones, and television, the day stretches out broad and seemingly endless, allowing kids to rediscover the world around them and how much more can be packed into a day.
From the moment a young camper wakes, he is forced to make eye contact and communicate with his fellow campers and counselors. She will eat a communal breakfast, then head out for a full day of activities that might include games, water sports, theatre, arts and crafts, and campfires.
And at day’s end, campers will collapse into bed, exhausted, the promise of another day’s infinite possibilities awaiting.
What’s not to like about that?