Summer Camp: A Little Independence Away from Over-Supervised Childhood


Summer. Camp season.

Every year I have teens under my care that venture off to summer camps. Traditional camps, academic camps, religious camps…  There are a stunning variety of camp experiences.

1 week, 2 weeks, 3 weeks, 4 weeks, even 6 and 8 weeks away at camp. I’m always impressed that kids go off for so long. Some are away from their parents all summer, or half the break. Under the supervision of teen camp counselors and barely adult college students, they hike and swim and learn silly camp songs with friends. 2 of my own 3 kids go off to a week of camp every summer, first as campers, then junior counselors, and eventually counselors for the next group of kids.

I talked to a very perfectionistic-and-worried-about-appearances teen girl at the start of the summer who explained that she spends more than a month at camp every summer, and it’s the only place where she doesn’t care how she looks. No make-up. No name brand clothes. She swims in the muddy river (and she noted that she never believed she would do that!) and she bonds with “the best friends [she] has every had.”

Summer camp is an incredible time for kids to stretch their skills and grow outside the watchful gaze of parents. At camp, kids today get to experience the kind of autonomy that’s so often lacking in their everyday lives. Whereas we parents can recall running the streets until after dark without an adult in sight when we were kids, our kids are constantly supervised and overscheduled. They have very little experience making independent decisions (and mistakes). And this is how they grow into adults with anxiety, into adults who lack confidence in their ability to manage life without someone to tell them what to do.

It’s easy to blame parents for helicoptering, but some kids have grown so accustomed to constant adult supervision, that they feel terrified without it. Some kids on the anxious end of the temperament scale would rather skip summer camp, skip the learning opportunity (and the fun) and just stick close to home. It’s those kids who need summer camp the most.

This weekend I dropped off my own (middle) child for an out of state, 3-week academic summer camp. And he’s not just any kid, he’s the one that’s never been willing to go to summer camp before but probably needs it the most. He was completely unwilling. Unwilling until he found the right camp, anyway.

Camp is the best chance our kids get to learn that they can function without us. They learn that they can make good decisions, and if they mess up, it’s not a big deal. They learn that it’s not so hard to bumble along and figure things out, and it’s fun to learn and grow.

I hope my own camper has an awesome time at camp. I hope he spreads his little wings and finds out he is braver than he thought he was. However it goes, he’ll grow. And that’s what camp is about.

STUCK in the Sick Role: How Illness Becomes and Identity by Melissa Stennett Deuter, MD  Click here to find on Amazon:

STUCK in the Sick Role: How Illness Becomes and Identity by Melissa Stennett Deuter, MD

Click here to find on Amazon:

Posted on July 9, 2018 .