Credit: Parks Canada/Tim Forbes


January 2010

Camp Blessings

There are many benefits to a camp experience, but for well-known psychologist, Wendy Mogel, some of the top ones for parents to remember are mud, dirty fingernails and bugs.  Canada Camps for Parents sits down with the author of The Blessing of a Skinned Knee to get her thoughts on why parents should send their kids to camp.


The default challenges of loving, devoting, intelligent parents are over protection, over scheduling, over indulgence and expecting kids to perform at a higher level in every area except for respect for adults.  Today’s kids that are bubble wrapped don’t develop immune systems because they are too protected.


When I was a child, children could go play outside on a summer night without adults knowing where they were until dark.  When I was in school, the kindergarten curriculum included making an ashtray and learning a couple of songs and how to clean up after a snack.  Today, schools are preparing kids for standardized tests.  The academic pressure is very different and the 24-hour news cycle and the love of terrifying parents has made parents phobic about giving their kids much freedom in nature.  Parents have an image in their mind of a pedophile or child abductor spending most of their time trying to figure out how to target their child—the odds of that happening are extremely miniscule.  They are also fearful of giving them privacy.  Parents are so brainwashed that they think private means danger.  Instead, private means time to daydream, fart around and accomplish nothing, to rest or for spiritual growth.


The biggest symptoms psychologists and school administrators complain about in today’s kids are anxiety, entitlement and general high maintenance.  Camp is the opposite of that.  At camp, you are just a bunk member.


The most important thing for parents to remember is role modeling.  If the school has a sign saying no left turns out of the parking lot and the parent makes a left turn, a six year old recognizes that.  Very small acts have a big impact on little people.  The amount of cheating done in high schools and universities is greater today than 15 years ago.  These kids, every minute of every day, believe their whole future is on the line.  This is what we have created—an unethical atmosphere by our own actions as parents and putting our kids in situations where the bible would call it a “stumbling block before the blind.”

This is how you create, especially in boys, demoralization about school, and rowdy, acting out behavior.  They are so frustrated at being asked to do work they are not ready to do.  This is not how you create life-long, enthusiastic learners.


I went to camp for 16 years.  I went to a day camp and was a camper, Counselor-in-Training, staff member and senior staff member.  I grew up in New York City and it was tradition to send kids to camp for eight weeks.  I loved camp.  It was so different than being at home.  We would just sit around the pond and gather frogs.  Camp has so many good things for kids:  mosquitoes, mean kids in your bunk, times when you feel too hot or too cold and a lake which is really cold.


What I want parents to expect is that at the beginning of the summer, their child might petition to go home.  Camp is antidote to everything I mentioned in the beginning:  over protection to over indulgence to too much focus on academics.  Not to mention lack of respect for adults.  At camp, because counselors are not the kids’ mommy and daddy, they won’t coddle them like they are used to being coddled.


Parents have to understand that social and emotional development and self-reliance and self-regulation—examples of psychological maturity—are what predicts adult success much more than learning specific skills that will look good on your transcript.  I’m sorry to see camps getting more structured, more technically focused and less the final outpost for childhood.  I want kids to play with all five senses in three dimensions, instead of on a computer screen or in a structured class during or after school.


I like camp folk to talk to parents about what their fears are and why these fears are misplaced.  I like to call this “preventative mental health” for camp parents.


Bugs, dirt, extremes of temperature, dirty fingernails, being with kids [that are different] from your home town, church, school or synagogue, learning all sorts of things to do, sitting in a field when you are feeling down, having your own resources to take care of the natural fluctuations in moods that kids have, hiding from the prying eyes of nervous, devoted parents, and doing sneaky things and not getting caught.  I think the best avenue to spiritual elevation in life is singing in nature, and at at camp you can do this.

January 1, 2010