Summer Camp Magic: How Kids Grow When They Are Away From Their Parents
September 13, 2016, by Jake
Summer Camp Magic: How Kids Grow When They Are Away From Their Parents
September 13, 2016, by Jake

By Dr. Alexandra Barzvi, Ph.D., Maine Camp Experience parent

Gone are the days when kids taught each other important things out of earshot of their parents. These days, parents feel like they need to be there for everything and do all of the parenting themselves. Admittedly I fall into this trap myself. Many of us feel like we need to be there first thing in the morning until bedtime, and those of us who work often feel guilty when we can’t. We want to be there to prepare them for the day ahead and to kiss them goodbye for as long as they will let us. We want to greet them when they arrive home from school and hear all about their days. We want to feed them heathy meals, labor over their homework with them, and endlessly try to help them solve every one of their social, emotional and academic struggles; all in an effort to shape them into great people, while all the while protecting them from too much pain and suffering. This is our job. It’s what we do. Honestly, it never feels like enough to me, and half the time it feels all wrong.

Michael Thompson, PhD, author of “Homesick and Happy: How Time Away from Parents can Help a Child Grow”  said it best when I interviewed him on a segment I was doing on Summer Camp and Friendship on Doctor Radio, About Our Kids, Sirius Xm Channel 110.  He said “This generation of Parents has to be helped to do a little bit less.” He reported that 30 years ago 87% of kids biked to school, and now those numbers are down to 13%. This statistic breaks my heart. This may sound like an extreme statement but when we take away these learning experiences from our children, we are robbing them of the opportunity to believe that they are big enough, strong enough, and capable enough to do something on their own, like ride a bike to school. I really believe that no soccer goal, good grade or trophy earned provides kids with the same pride as doing something that makes them feel like they are independent, mature, responsible and strong.

The summer camp experience empowers kids with exactly this feeling. In camp, kids thrive because in large part, they are away from us. And when they are away from us, kids grow. In fact they flourish. Not because they do not need us but because they need to figure things out on their own. They need other important people in their lives, other authority figures and friends who they can rely on and learn from as well. When they accomplish something away from us they own it. It belongs to them, and it lights them up in a different way than when we are looking over their shoulder, cheering them on, coaching them, teaching them, and helping them. They certainly do need this from us, but they also need to be on their own too.

When I went to visit my 8 1/2 year old daughter who went to a 7 week sleep away camp for the first time in Maine this summer (at a Maine Camp Experience Camp), I was struck by her level of maturity, her self-confidence and her beaming pride. It was clear that she felt like this camp was hers and we were visitors, her guests. She had complete ownership of her surroundings and she was so excited to be able to share everything that she loved about camp with her family. I felt like I was on a grand tour of the Louvre. I was moved by the way she held her younger brother and sister’s hands, leading us around to all of her favorite activities, stopping to introduce us to her friends and counselors, and of course eagerly demonstrating her skills in rock climbing, horseback riding and wake boarding. My husband and I were blown away. This was her best self, shining through. The side that is grounded, thoughtful, loving, and genuinely happy. That side of our kids that we all know is there and that wish we could see more of.

Both as a psychologist and as a mother, I take to heart what Michael Thompson says: “Have confidence in your child’s native wish to be independent. Some children are bolder and some are more worried and reticent, but they all want to be independent.” Don’t make the assumption that your child does not want to be on his own or that he can’t. Assume that he can and support him and encourage him to gradually get there. I have two bold, adventuresome kids and one who is more shy and more reluctant to try new things, including being away from home. But my goal is the same for all of them. I want to raise independent, happy, resilient adults. And I truly believe that summer camp in Maine is a building block toward this end.

Dr. Alexandra Barzvi, noted Clinical Psychologist and Co-Host of About Our Kids, Doctor Radio, on SiriusXM 110 is the mom of a Maine Camp Experience camper.  Visit her website and Facebook page to stay up to date with all of her advice.

Maine Camp Experience Resources & Tools

Looking for the perfect Maine camp for your child?  Try out our helpful tool where you can select a camp by choosing: type of camp (girls, boys or coed) and session length (1-8 weeks).  It helps to narrow down a few camps to a manageable list that includes rates.  Then you can research these camps in more depth.  

Next, be sure to contact our Maine Campcierge™ to discuss these camps as well as for free, year-round advice and assistance on choosing a great Maine summer camp for your child.

You can share your own Maine camps memories & expressions of gratitude on our Memories of Camp section of our website.

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