I usually start each session with a normal “Welcome to Camp” blog, but I want to be a little more ambitious this year. Please let me explain why we have committed our lives to the camp experience.
Susie and I graduated from Kellogg and Harvard Business Schools in 1994 and 1993. We had been in health care (Susie) and investment banking/consulting (me) but decided that we wanted to do something that would impact young people.
Summer camp had been transformational for me, as noted in a 2012 TEDx talk I did.
Susie had not attended camp, but believed it was a unique way to make a difference.
In 1993-94, we believed that camps made a difference.
In 2023, we know that they do even more so - they are more important than ever.
I will share the list of gifts in two sections. First, I will enumerate the benefits that have always been part of camp. Second, I will focus on three that are particularly important in 2023 as compared to 1993.
The Traditional Gifts of Camp
You are busy, so I will share these in bullet points.
- Belonging – Camp is a place where you can present your unfiltered self and find love and acceptance.
- Friends – We like to say that “camp friends are friends forever”. While every cabinmate will not become a permanent friend, the friendship forged at camp are deep. Afterall, you connect with people who see you non-stop with all your faults and care for you anyway.
- Honing interpersonal skills – Camp is non-stop interactions with other people. Every camper and counselors becomes a better listener, talker, follower and leader.
- Role models – Sadly, we parents are not members of the Cadre of Cool in the eyes of our kiddos (at least not when they become teens). At camp, your children get to see adults who are young, caring, and cool. I believe that nothing is as powerful for a child or teen than to have a 20 year-old listen to and truly “see” them.
- Finding ways to shine – When I went to camp, I tried on new personalities and perceptions of myself. At home, I was an asthmatic younger brother of a football star. At camp, I was simple Steve and the “most outstanding marksman”. I learned to take risks and share jokes. Each year, we see campers forming their personalities in ways that help them when they return home.
- Foster independence and confidence – Susie likes to say that confidence comes from competence. Mastering new skills, especially on their own without help from parents, helps kiddos realize they are more capable than they realized.
- Fun – I would never leave this one off. Camp is a blast!
Post Covid Gifts of Camp
We are focused on three benefits in these odd days.
- Tech Free and Happy – Parents are concerned about the effects of excess screen time and social media consumption, and with good reason. We have learned that social media usage especially affects teens and we have learned that the tech companies know this as well. But at the very moment that most parents started to ask, “how do we reduce our screen time”, the pandemic separated us and put more tech into all our hands. Much of that technology was a blessing, but I think we all came out of the past 3 years with more screen time than we would want – for ourselves and our children. Camp may be the one experience where a child is without any screens – be it TikTok or video games – for 2-3 weeks and they will thank you for it. Camp helps children experience life in a 100% traditional way. We are face-to-face, not screen-to-screen. When we are most successful, our campers return home to their devices, but without letting the screens take control.
- Strong Kids – Every parent I know wants their children to grow into strong and capable adults. But many parenting trends make it hard for kiddos to develop resilience, least not “ant-fragility” (here is an article I wrote about this clunky, but important, term). The pandemic made us all a little more anxious and fragile, including our children. We see evidence of substantial increased mental health struggles in teens and college students. Camp provides an array of experiences – from mastering a skill, overcoming a fear or just being away from home – that help each camper realize they are strong and more capable when they leave than when they arrived. Counselors help galvanize these realizations. Your child should return home a tad more capable and strong.
- Unity and Community – We all see more anger and polarization these days than ever before. This hostility is not limited to cable news or political debates, but have crept onto airplanes, school board meetings, places of worship and even the grocery store. At Camp Champions, we believe that there is more than connects us with other people than divides us. We strive to avoid the ideas that polarize and practice caring about each other. A cabin might have people from different backgrounds, but the campers get a chance to practice seeing each other as humans - as precious individuals – and not as caricatures. We see this as a vital skill that we can all benefit from practicing.
As you look at the photos, read the articles and get the occasion message from camp, please know that these are our goals. Of course, we may not accomplish all of them, but that is a lesson worth learning as well: failure is not falling short of our goals; failure is not striving to achieve them.
PS And, by the way, Welcome to Camp!!!