Dear Dr. Karyn,
My daughter is 11 and her friends are all going to camp, but I’m nervous about this. She keeps asking me to let her go, but because I never went to camp I’m anxious around this — it just wasn’t part of our family growing up. What are your thoughts on kids going to camp? Am I overreacting?
Camp provides powerful emotional, physical, and leadership development opportunities. Here are my five benefits for sending kids to camp!
My belief is that camp is a powerful “friendship accelerator.” Where else can you build deep friendships in one week? Generally, friendships take months or years to cultivate — and yet those of us who have gone to camp understand how quickly friendships can form when you are living in the same cabin, doing campfires, taking risks together, and having an insane amount of fun!
I went to camp for the first time when I was 8 years old and I have maintained some of my longest friendships with those friends now more than 30 years later. Camp is truly a unique place that really allows people to build lifetime friendships!
Helping kids move from dependence to independence is a critical developmental stage (ideally we want to help them move to interdependence in their teen and young adult years). Yet, becoming independent does not always happen naturally (that’s why you can see a 25 year old still dependent on his parents, living at home playing video-games). Parents beware! When parents do too much (overindulge, micro-manage, helicopter their kids’ and teens’ decisions), it stunts independence from developing.
That’s why camp can be so powerful! Camp provides a healthy, safe environment for kids to have some space away from their parents and to start exercising their independence muscle (yes, think of it like an emotional muscle that needs a lot of practice)!
When was the last time your kids took an intentional healthy risk or set a goal? This topic came up in our house recently because last month we had the Raptors head coach Dwane Casey speak to our parent community (he was exceptional) about inspiring your kids to take risks (I’ll share next month some of his key insights). So leading up to his keynote I was openly talking about risk-taking with my boys. And they really got it!
Risk-taking is a skill or emotional muscle that is critical for kids to learn — but how? One of the best ways is to be in an environment that allows them to naturally try new things with someone encouraging and coaching them as they start to spread their wings. Camp provides that powerful, yet safe environment for kids to start exercising this ability.
The first book I wrote was on self-esteem for kids, and a significant finding I discovered in my research was that one of the best ways to build self-esteem is for kids to set goals and take risks. When we set realistic goals, and try our very best to reach them, we build self-efficacy, or this sense that “Wow, I am in control of my life. Life doesn’t happen to me (passive) but I can make it happen (active).”
Camp provides an amazing environment for kids to try new things, push themselves out of their comfort zone, and expand their interests, which is why it helps to build their confidence.
Many parents ask me how can they get their kids away from technology. Yes, you can set limits and negotiate for time boundaries — but it can be exhausting! When I was doing my doctorate there was a type of therapy I was drawn to called structural and solution-oriented therapy, which focused on finding solutions or changing a structure to create change. So, yes, you can exercise your communication and conflict-resolution skills to limit technology, OR, structurally, you can put your kids in an environment where technology is not an option — like camp!
Just to be clear, I’m not against technology or media time (after all, I work nearly one-third of my time now in media), but I do think there needs to be a balance. I strongly believe that kids need to have ample time outside, being active, and enjoying nature! In many ways camp allows us to enjoy the simple things of life again — playing, being, exploring, building, expanding ourselves, and relating to those around us!
Dr. Karyn Gordon is one of North America’s leading relationship and parenting experts. She is a regular contributor to “Good Morning America,” founder of dk Leadership, and best-selling author of “Dr. Karyn’s Guide To The Teen Years” (Harper Collins. Visit her at www.dklea