How Camp Changes Kids

Filed under: Opinions

Over the past few years, there's been talk of a new camp ailment: childsickness. It's not children getting sick, it's parents homesick for their kids.

Pathetic, but understandable. After all, this is a generation of parents who spend a huge chunk of their free time (or what used to be free time) driving their kids, assisting their kids, watching their kids practice some sport/instrument/college-stunning-hobby, or simply reading about what new thing they should be doing for their kids.

The result is parents who feel bereft when they send their kids off to camp, particularly overnight camp. And yet, being away from parents is exactly what makes camp so heady. Free from the scrutiny of Mom and Dad, kids can grow up.

I recall how intensely I didn't want my mom to come along on field trips because I didn't want her to see the different young woman I was at school. (And I sure didn't want her babying me in front of my friends! Ack!)


Well, camp is the ultimate field trip. My husband says it was only when he went to overnight camp that he got to express interest in his new hobby: girls. Back home, he had to pretend he was a nerd (not quite sure how much pretending was necessary) for another three years.

Camp allowed him to be his real self.

Camp also is where kids have to deal with life on their own. "The most important lesson I learned," my friend Becky says, "was that nobody cares if you don't like the food."

Picky eaters learn to eat. Scared kids learn to swim. And, most profoundly, unhappy kids learn there is a bigger world out there.

"I was bullied ruthlessly," recalls one young man who wrote me a note. "My life would have been much different had I not had the chance to go away for seven weeks and forget that school existed."

Another bullied kid says every morning during the school year he would recite the camp's name before getting out of bed. That got him through the day.

Holding kids back from camp because we can't bear to be apart is like shackling them to the castle wall. "I love you so much I won't let you go!"

Let. Them. Go.

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.