By: Mitch and Stephanie Reiter, Camp Owners/Directors
Today’s generation of parents has a daunting task of how they make decisions for their family. They are armed with endless information at their fingertips. Websites, videos, reviews, social influence and blogs (like this one). Everyone has an opinion to influence and weigh in. There is fear that you could make the wrong choice or fail your child. You want to protect your child and do everything in your power to lay the groundwork for “success”. And if your choice isn’t perfect, you fear your child’s unhappiness and the guilt that goes along with it. Now that sounds like a lot of pressure! The best part about camp is the pressure gets lifted. Your child leaves the nest, in a safe and loving environment to experience things they never could under the management of “Mom, Dad and Associates”.
But how can you be sure that this is the right camp? That they will love it? That they are ready? We wanted to share some advice that we have collected after meeting many families like yours over the years.
First, you should trust the one thing that guides you the most as a parent. Your gut, your intuition and your values. When looking at a camp, you should learn what the camp is offering. Is it an authentic experience that has the morals, structure and beliefs that you have? Is it simply catering to the wavering whims of children, or does it have a confident leadership team that sets the tone, expectations and agenda? Are the directors your parenting partners who are invested in helping nurture and develop your child through adolescence, the teen years and into adulthood? Does the program offer the activities that would interest your child? How do they help your child grow into an independent and healthy person? And does it feel like a good fit for your kid (the people, the environment, the stuff you can only sense from actually being there)?
Second, remember who this decision is for and why you are sending your child to camp. Activities are important. Quality of facilities, instruction, all part of the decision. But those are merely vehicles to teach the life skills that will influence your child’s development and success for years to come.
We have seen so many wonderful children come through our program, and have heard parents insist their child swim extra hours, or receive additional baseball or soccer. But when given the CHOICE, children often opt for the activities that they can’t do at home, that peak their curiosity and challenge their senses. When away from mom and dad for 7 weeks, they want to create an experience that is their own. This is what fuels growth, development and healthy independence. Remember THAT is why you send your child to camp. One parent recently said, “I want my child to play tennis because I think they have real potential, but I can’t wait to see what they love to do at camp. What drives them when I’m not around. What makes THEM happy.” (now that’s the spirit)
We like to quote author Dr. Michael Thompson a lot around here, but what he says is so true…”You cannot make your child happy.” Once you realize that until a child truly can experience something on his or her own, they will always rely on a parent to help navigate their emotions. Whether it be homesickness, struggling with trying unfamiliar foods, friendship issues in a bunk, losing a match or winning a game, camp is the place where children can work through these challenges and feelings. Camp helps children learn to cope with real life situations because it doesn’t shelter them, it gives them the tools to succeed.
Third, camp readiness is a tricky one. So many parents are looking for their child to say “I am ready”, “sign me up”, “I love it here already.” While we get this a lot, this isn’t necessarily realistic. Especially if you are sending your eldest child to camp, they haven’t seen a sibling go through the experience and the unknown can be overwhelming. This is where you come in. They look to you as their leaders for guidance and to set the agenda (much like we do at camp). A year is a long time to get them involved in their pre-camp experience. If you think they are ready, if you are looking for them to grow and mature and have incredible life-changing experiences, help them understand the power of camp and your decision.
Remember how old your child is. 6, 7, 8, 9 and even 10 year olds cannot fully appreciate the reasons why or how you choose a camp. They see the facilities, the spirit and the activities. The sun, the rain, the smells of the day. They don’t necessarily see the values, how the campers return year after year and the lasting influence camp has on these campers and staff. Get your child involved in choosing a camp, but we believe that YOU should ultimately make the choice, or make the choice together.
There have always been ups and downs, everywhere in life. At camp, some days we have banana splits, some days we don’t! We have had rainy summers and very hot summers; some of have said not all Olympic Breakouts were the best ever and many have loved those awesome psych-outs! Sometimes your team wins the World Series, sometimes they don’t. Learning to live through the ups and downs throughout the day, the summer and the years together, with the help of your camp family, helps build self esteem, resilience and confidence to face the many challenges your child will face in a lifetime.
Give yourself a break. Hand over the reigns. Help your child grow without you. We promise they will love you for it! And if you haven’t already, seriously read Homesick & Happy. It will rewire you for thinking about the camp experience and the role you play in your child’s life. You cannot make your child happy, but you can give them the gift of camp. An experience that will transform their life and stay with them forever.
About the authors: For over 26 years, Mitch and Stephanie Reiter are the Owners & Directors of Camp Towanda, a privately-owned, premier co-ed sleepaway camp in the Poconos, PA.