Camp friends are friends forever.jpg?ixlib=rails 2.1

This photo reminded me of an article that I saw last week.

Occasionally, I find myself writing a blog that is good news for camp families, but perhaps discouraging for the broader population.

One example is the blog “Camp and COVID, We are All Just More” (I reposted it today) that I wrote earlier this summer. In it, I talk about how the pandemic has left bumps and bruises (and sometimes true tragedy) for all of us who went through it. We all need to re-learn our interpersonal, interactive skills – we are just less practiced in these areas – and we need to address increases in anxiety. These challenges are real (bad news), but the good news is that camp is a great place to overcome them.

Another “good news, bad news” camp story is technology in general and social media in particular. Social media has proven to be a developmental challenge to children, especially teens (and especially teen girls). Again, this is an area that make me giddy about camp. Each day, I watch all our camp community connect and experience joy without any devices. Seeing teens making eye contact, smiling and hugging is a source of elation.

I also want to comment on another area of concern that applies to most of us, but less to campers – the reduction in friendships. This is where the article I mention comes in. Writing in “The Week”, the author shared the following:

“A study released last week by the Survey Center on American Life shows the number of both men and women who claim to have “no close friends” increasing five-fold over the past 30 years. For men, the rate of friendlessness has gone from 3 percent in 1990 to 15 percent in 2021, and for women from 2 percent to 10 percent today. The pattern is the same on the high end, with the percentage of men saying they have 10 or more friends dropping from 40 to 15 percent and the percentage of women saying the same falling from 28 to 11 percent.”

The article also talks about the reduced attendance of institutions like churches, clubs (like Rotary, Lion’s), bowling leagues etc. and the INCREASE in technology-supported interactions instead. The author notes that “All of this can make it harder to forge friendships. At least in the real world.”

As a citizen of our nation (and the world), I worry about these trends. But as a camp director, I am thrilled that our campers (your children) are forming true face-to-face friendships. They are not “bowling alone”, they are making friendship bracelets. They are not casting Instagram stories into the internet void, they are sharing stories while sitting in a circle and hearing real laughter.

Each year, we attend a couple of “camp weddings”. A “camp wedding” is not necessarily one where the couple met at camp (though that is not rare), but one where a surprising number of the wedding party and guestlist are people from camp. When you think about the limited amount of time that campers and/or counselors spend with their camp friends versus school or college friends, these proportions make little sense.

But these are the people that become friends in a uniquely immersive and loving environment. For the counselors, they are getting to know each other slowly and without the need of partying. And everyone is forming these relationships face-to-face.

When I read this article, I want to do better in the non-summer months of staying in touch with the friends I do have. I am placing a greater emphasis on scheduling visits with friends, cultivating book/dinner clubs and Zoom calls with people I know from college and graduate school. But I also smile knowing that your children will leave camp with deeper friendships than most other people.

We might not be able to help the world, but it is deeply rewarding to help this community.

Steve Sir