We all want our children to be happy and successful. Would you believe that letting them spread their own wings — without us by their side — may be the most effective way to do this? Our job as parents is to give our children the tools they need to go out in the world and discover who they are and what they want to become — to confidently discover their purpose in life. A child can only truly grow if given some freedom and the chance to gain independence by exploring new ideas and activities. What better place for children to begin this process than sleepaway camp? Sending children away to camp may seem a daunting prospect at first, but if you ask anyone who has spent several weeks bunking with their friends, they will tell you how the experience positively transformed their life and how lucky they feel that their parents gave them that gift.
According to Michael Thompson, a clinical psychologist and author of “Homesick and Happy: How Time Away from Parents Can Help a Child Grow,” “Parents can sometimes seriously impede their children’s development. As a parent, there are many things you cannot do for your children. You cannot give your child confidence, you cannot pick or manage his or her friendships, you cannot always be his or her advocate/agent/manager/coach. … And most important, parents have a hard time urging their children to take psychological risks.”
Thompson goes on to explain how sleepaway camp succeeds in doing all of these things and how critical it is for children and teens to have these experiences. He says that true independence is something parents cannot give their children; kids must live it on their own.
The 5 Benefits of Sleepaway Camp
There are five invaluable aspects of sleepaway camp that can lead children and teens to discovering their purpose:
1. Growing confidence
One of the most important benefits of sleepaway camp is that children build confidence and self-esteem while living away from their parents. These positive attributes stem from belonging, learning and contributing. Camps provide many unique opportunities for children to succeed in these three areas through the following experiences:
- They belong to their sports team and bunkhouse.
- They learn from trying new activities and making new friends.
- They contribute by helping during meals and by serving as team leaders.
Camp also provides ways for children to feel a sense of accomplishment. When they succeed, they are empowered and have more confidence when faced with the next challenge. They also learn from their mistakes and failures, which only makes them more resilient in the future. Also, the kind of encouragement kids receive at camp helps them to overcome setbacks, try new things and take pride in improvement. Some camp experiences even allow them to conquer their fears, whether it’s learning to swim in a lake or tackling a ropes course.
Finally, many children will purposely choose to attend camp where they do not know any other campers when they arrive. This experience gives them the chance to start afresh and explore who they truly are in a different environment where no one knows them. All of this confidence building brings them closer to figuring out their interests and goals.
2. Gain a broader perspective
At camp, children begin to see the world a bit differently. Away from their comfort zone and exposed to new people and experiences, they gain a new and broader perspective. They realize that they are part of something bigger than themselves and their immediate family. They meet people from different backgrounds and with diverse interests. They may participate in community service projects that they would not have otherwise had the chance to take part in. Sleepaway camp is enormously valuable in how it introduces children to new ways of seeing the world, their peers and themselves.
3. Caring about community
Children benefit from being part of the unique community found at sleepaway camp. It gives them a sense of belonging, which will ultimately improve their ability to cooperate, contribute and serve their future communities as caring citizens. Campers also gain new social skills from being in a group setting. They must share a room with others, manage chores, resolve conflicts, communicate effectively, and be kind and accommodating to their fellow campers. Being part of a close-knit community can be challenging at times, but children who learn how to adapt and get along with others will reap the benefits of that experience for a lifetime.
Peter Scales, Ph.D., a senior fellow with the Search Institute in Minneapolis, says, “Camp activities and group living in a natural environment are the tools used to create camp communities that provide for successful, healthy development. … [Campers] learn to work together, make choices, take responsibility, develop creative skills, build independence and self-reliance, and gain confidence. All are necessary steps on a child’s path to a healthy, productive life.”
4. Building skills
Sleepaway camp is chock-full of unique activities and events that children can’t find anywhere else. Attending camp allows kids to learn new skills, whether it be in sports, arts or outdoor exploration. Being exposed to so many new programs and activities enhances their knowledge and capabilities, allowing them to get closer to discovering what they enjoy most.
Camp also helps children become more independent. They learn how to make their own decisions without parents and teachers telling them what to do. They are expected to manage daily chores, show up on time to activities, and keep their belongings neat and clean. These are life skills that will help them succeed in whatever they do.
5. Cultivating self-reflection
Camp is the perfect environment for self-reflection and meditation because kids get to unplug and enjoy the serenity of time spent in nature. When kids take a break from television, video games, texting and surfing online, they become more mindful of their surroundings and their own emotions. They are able to focus on the simple things in life, such as going for a hike, watching a sunset, singing around the campfire and connecting with new friends.
Camp also provides a time for unstructured play. Campers are encouraged to use their creativity to solve problems and have fun. They learn how to keep busy with activities that have been enjoyed for centuries, such as swimming and boating on a lake, woodworking and theater performances. This carefree living gives them a chance to relax and laugh without the pressures of their hectic, overly scheduled lives back home. This change of pace can lead to emotional and spiritual growth.