After more than a year of quarantine and virtual school, kids are in dire need of time to really connect with their peers. The best place I know for true friendships is summer camp. We had two weeks of camp last summer and were able to create a safe bubble where kids could feel free and play. This summer will be even safer. But there are many other reasons beyond COVID fatigue for why kids need camp.
What is missing from the pictures on this page? Look closely, and you will notice that not one of these teenage girls is holding her cell phone, and they all survived! That is one of the best things about girls coming to a week of camp; they unplug from technology and plug into nature and friends.
Probably one of the most major benefits of a week away at summer camp is the friendships made. Without parents around, kids get to choose who they hang out with, and that autonomy gives them a sense of independence missing in their everyday lives. Because no one knows you, it’s also an opportunity to reinvent yourself, as you have no reputation to uphold. This creates the space for kids to let down their masks and try new activities and personas. At my camp, we spend the morning doing circle time where girls can share their stories and hear other’s experiences as well. They learn that they are not the only one who has faced adversities, and this sharing quickly brings the group closer. Every girl needs a safe space like this to learn, increase their self-awareness and grow.
Being out in nature all day also slows down the pace of life, and kids actually get to experience some unstructured down time. This summer is the 30th anniversary of Camp Weloki, and we have always made sure that our camps contain lots of unstructured time that kids lack in their normal routines. That’s where camp becomes magical, with so many moments of spontaneous fun and creativity. You walk everywhere, and you actually give people your full attention because texts and social media don’t distract you. This generates more in-depth conversations and, therefore, more intimacy.
There are endless opportunities to hang out and enjoy your new friends: sharing a cabin, eating your meals together, singing around a campfire, taking long hikes or canoe rides, watching sunsets, and star gazing at night. Add to that all of the spontaneous explosions of laughter, pranking the counselors, and creating new games, skits and songs, and you’ve got friends for life.
The relationships you experience at summer camp are unique and magical. The absence of technology, the slow pace and unstructured time, and the high level of trust, camaraderie and shared experience create close ties that can last a lifetime. After suffering through the pandemic, kids need and deserve the freedom and connections that summer camp provides.
Tim Jordan, M.D., is a behavioral pediatrician who works with girls in grade school through college. Check out his new online course, Parenting girls: The challenges girls face today with their feelings and friends and what they need, at drtimjordan.com.