March 21, 2022
In my previous blog, I shared that I want to scream the importance of camp from the rooftops. In particular, I want parents to know that camp has critical impacts:
Camp Builds Strong Kids
Camp allows Kids to be Tech Free and Happy
I also shared that two inspirations had prompted me to write now. The first was an update to the book The Coddling of the American Mind. Here is a link to that first blog if you missed it.
The second inspiration is the pandemic. You know the one – it has scrambled our lives for two years.
We have all struggled during these two years. We have lost loved ones, worried about our jobs, saw schools close, and watched as we all got more frustrated and angry. From the kids’ point of view, I see several particular disruptions:
I am sure that we could list more, but let’s start with these five. Please note that I will not discuss why these things happened nor how policies might have been different. My interest here is only in how these disruptions have affected our kids.
Children need to play. Play not only brings joy, but it helps foster important skills like empathy and cooperation.
Children also learn to talk & connect when they can be together, hug, and forge friendships.
They learn about the importance of community by communing with others.
Friends bring depth and meaning to our lives. Our friends listen to us, help us work through issues, and simply make us feel better. At least we have Zoom and FaceTime (can you imagine the pandemic without them?), but they are poor substitutes for face-to-face interaction.
Much of our separation was necessary, but it came with a cost. The lives lost are not the only terrible result of Covid.
Children benefit from routine and predictability. Sure, they will complain about going to school, but school provides certainty and rhythm to their day. Extracurricular activities also provide structure. When these are taken away, uncertainty and chaos creep in and lead to anxiety.
But the anxiety does not end there. Our children are like emotional barometers that react to the emotions of the adults around them. When we are (understandably) stressed, worried, annoyed, confused, sad, and scared, those emotions flow to them. Our anxiety becomes theirs. No one is to blame here. These two years sucked. They sucked for us and for our children.
Even the best online school curriculum, the most creative teachers, the best computer, and the best internet connection are not a substitute for in-person learning. All students learned less during this period. Less fortunate students suffered even more loss.
But the loss was not limited to academics. One of the great gifts of school is providing adult role models that will help our children grow. The Search Institute has documented that “adolescents who have stronger relationships with non-family adults have higher levels of positive support, engage in less risky behavior, and have increased levels of overall well-being. Ultimately, students with strong adult relationships in school have higher psychological and physiological well-being.”
If we are not going to school or extracurriculars, we miss out on these opportunities for individuation. I like to remind parents that your child can never be better at being you than you are. Other adults provide examples of ways they can forge their own identity: “I will take the love of my mom, the determination of my dad, the humor of my coach, the patience of my favorite teacher, etc.” Camp counselors are also great in this role.
The increase in anger is related to the increase in anxiety, but it is worth mentioning separately.
I was shocked to learn that in 2020, the number of traffic deaths increased 7% even though the amount of driving dropped 13%. People are just driving mad.
We have seen videos of flight attendants attacked, angry riots, chaotic school board meetings, and strangers pushing down old people. We have all personally witnessed someone go off the handle in a way that surprised us – heck, that person may have been us. All the isolation and confusion has converted into anger.
And it doubtlessly impacts our children. They are more frustrated and mad – more prone to yell or push. One camp director I know runs a camp with over 550 girls at a time. His family has run the camp for over a century. In all those years, he had to send home only 2 girls for stealing. Last summer, he had to send home 5 for this unusual behavior.
I do not think I need to add much here. Virtually every parent I know was looking for ways to reduce technology usage, especially social media, prior to the pandemic.
And at the moment we were ready to address this critical challenge, we were forced to go online for everything.
Rather than go on a tech diet, we became screen-time gluttons. Some tech helped us have meetings, see loved ones, and attend school. But we also watched more content and immersed ourselves deeper into social media and its concerning algorithms.
My next two blogs will share why I think camp is such a great gift in these trying times.