Resilience: Are parents opening the door for their child’s independence?
Every year, millions of children prepare for the ultimate sleepaway camp experience. Many campers are veterans while others are nervous and need to rehearse being away from their homes, beds, parents and electronic devices.
Many parents make the crucial decision as early as September for their child to attend camp, which is certainly out of their comfort zone. Living conditions are different- especially rooming with a bunch of campers, some who are personable and others who may be annoying. The food that is served is not the typical home cooked meals they are used to. Campers will have the opportunity to master skills like archery, sports and culinary while playing fun games such as capture the flag, participate in hilariously silly skits and bond around campfires.
Why is leaving the home such a critical step to independence?
Part of the challenge for many children (more than we think!) is beating the homesickness which the parents can’t truly help the child prepare for in advance. Taking this one step further, on a daily basis, parents are put in a position where they can no longer do all they would like to do for their child. Some parents make sure that their children are heavily dependent on mom and dad to build self esteem, manage their social lives and pick their friends. Parents who control their children in this way, can not expect their children to be successful without them.
It is time for parents to open the door and let their child walk out. Children need the summertime opportunity to walk away from their parents to learn about themselves. At times, they need to be on their own with experiences that belong only to the child without having to filter through what the parents think and feel about each situation and decision. Parents have to monitor and help guide when it’s appropriate, yet remember not to control. This experience is very difficult for many parents. We as parents are always thinking: Will my child be happy? Will they make friends? What will happen if they don’t make the basketball team? What will I do if they are not in the bunk with a particular friend? Or if they are placed with the child who I don’t want him/her placed with? We often confuse homesickness with the parent’s child-sickness and control.
I will never forget a pre-Shabbos conversation that I overheard a parent having with their child who was away at sleepaway camp. This child enjoyed the first two weeks of camp, yet walked away with tearful eyes after hearing the following from a parent: I know you really miss us and it’s really hard for you to be away. Picture mommy and daddy sitting at the Shabbos table and then giving you brachot. Think of all the zemiros that we sing together. This shabbos we are having grandma and grandpa over and they really miss you as well. What was this parent trying to accomplish with this child? Was this helpful to the child? The parent actually expressed their own child-sickness and separation anxiety but did not give the child the positive erev Shabbos call they most likely intended. The child went into the call excited to share all the wonderful things that happened in camp that week, yet walked away from the call sad and confused.
Most adults will tell you that some of their greatest achievements as a child were when they were away from their parents and taking a challenge that was even a bit risky. Camp builds leadership, confidence and identity. It also allows for developing social skills, problem solving and self esteem.
Today’s parents are more emotionally close with and have deep attachments to their children while trying to protect their children from everything and anything they might perceive as traumatic. A study recently showed that parents have doubled the amount of time spent with their children in the last 20 years. Some of these hours are spent driving up to camp and settling their child into the bunk, unpacking and making their beds. Don’t we want the campers to have this experience on their own? Get on a camp bus and make new friends? Decide what to put in each cubby and how to make a camp bed? Don’t we want our children to learn how to be independent?
Every parent has to do their research and find the camp that they trust so that their child can learn to be more independent. A child needs to know that when they face a challenge, the victory belongs to them alone. If a child was homesick and moved past those feelings then the child accomplished this alone- without parental help. If the camper doesn’t like a program, has difficulty with another child or even with a staff member, it should be the child’s achievement in deciding who to turn to for guidance, solving these issues by problem solving and working out the details. The child will learn to speak appropriately and work with others, without a parent following behind. After all, don’t children need these tools for growing up? For school? For a career? For life? A child who gets injured or dirties their clothing needs to learn how to solve these issues on their own without mommy and daddy smoothing things over. When parents are too involved in every move, it can have a regressive effect on the lives of their children.
As we conclude the second week of sleepaway camp, I am reminded of all the accomplishments of both our staff and campers. I have witnessed many children leave their comfort zone to achieve socially and begin to problem solve on their own. Those parents that encourage a mentality of independence will see true success from their children. I was extremely proud this week when a parent asked me to speak to their child and help work out some differences with the bunk dynamics. After two days of team building the campers have become closer friends and now interact in a new way. Unfortunately, there are always some parents that after hearing of a minor issue encourage their child to leave after the first month. Usually there is nothing majorly wrong and most issues can be solved quickly. Each small item becomes a learning experience for the camper to place in their problem solving toolbox of independence. Parents who are child-sick sometimes harp on whatever they can to make sure that their child will want to leave camp and return home. I am sure though, that if we all work together, we will together raise more independent and successful children. This guided independence will eventually lead to a more professional work ethic as our children mature and prepare for a career in the future.