We’re all experiencing the effects of these difficult, post-pandemic times. Especially young people. They are navigating post-lockdown life with the intense pressures of screen-based friendships, self-esteem in the volatile hands of social media, academic demands, as well as the societal effects of climate change, gun violence, economic inflation, and political nastiness.
But alas, many have found a great way to unplug, decompress and see life from a fresh vantage point- At Summer Camp! This winter has seen unprecedented numbers of campers enrolling in Summer Camp programs, by parents recognizing the need to pry their kids off their screens and regain their social skills. Many high school and college students have found a similar reprieve from the weight of worldly cares by WORKING at Summer Camp as well. With fresh air, sunshine, laughter, comradery, friendships, responsibility, and a whole lot of FUN- it’s the ultimate summer job, and a great option to let loose, hone their lost social skills, and develop the work ethic and professionalism that employers are seeking.
In my new favorite book “The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas are Setting up a Generation for Failure,” authors/researchers Greg Lukanoff and Jonathan Haidt bring to light the unintended consequences of how raising children has evolved in the past decade.
■ Fragility: What doesn’t kill you makes you… weaker? Wasn’t it “What doesn’t kill you makes you STRONGER?” Young people have been taught and encouraged of late to be risk-averse. Attending or working at Summer Camp can be super-fun AND super-challenging. They meet new people, develop and nurture friendships, learn to compromise, try new things, and at most camps- persevere through the heat and “liquid sunshine.” Longitudinal research spearheaded by the American Camp Association is showing unequivocally that young people attending or working at Camp come out stronger, and more resilient!
■ Emotional Reasoning: Always trust your feelings? We’ve all experienced negative, and even overwhelming emotions at times. To be emotionally healthy though, we need to learn to manage these feelings and not let them rule our lives and logic. At Summer Camp, any given day can be an emotional rollercoaster. There will be winning and losing, disagreements with friends, fear of failure, and disappointments like NOT getting your favorite blue ice pop! It’s REAL LIFE, in a structured, well-supervised setting where we turn stressors into growth opportunities, preparing young people for the inevitable challenges that lie ahead of them.
■ Us vs. Them: That life is a battle between good and evil people. Cancel culture has become normalized by what has transpired on the news, in colleges, and in the workplace, causing negativity and polarization. Meanwhile, there are huge commonalities of shared beliefs between all of us. While accepting differences in others can be difficult, good Summer Camps create a training ground to practice diversity, equity, and inclusion. Whether it’s the annoying kid on the bus, the kid that looks different, the kid with physical or emotional challenges, or even the quirky counselor, Camp creates an environment where young people learn to adapt and build an understanding and appreciation for the uniqueness of others.
It's been a rough past few years, but a “covid silver lining” is the that families are now recognizing the significant effects on their children of increased screen time/social media, isolation, anxiety, depression, prescription drugs, and over the top parental “safetyism” which has led to declining free play. Parents are actively seeking solutions, and they have found one in Summer Camp.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that Camps are filling up quicker than ever, so do your research and reserve your spots now! The word is out, that Summer Camp is way more than kickball, making bracelets, and cooling off in the pool. It’s the ultimate learning environment for young people, including young staff, to develop and practice the social skills essential for success in the 21st century. Nothing compares to the Camp Experience!
Andy Pritikin is the owner/director of Liberty Lake Day Camp, and a partner at Everwood Day Camp and Camp Southwoods. He’s the Past President of the American Camp Association, NY/NJ, and the host of the Day Camp Podcast.