It’s the age-old question: What happens when a tree falls in the forest? Does it make a sound?
Parenting can be a bit like that from time to time. Consider these questions:
“If I don’t see them fall, will they just get back up? Does it hurt the same amount?”
“If I don’t remind them to put on their shoes, will they stub their toe?”
“If they don’t eat their broccoli at 6:30pm sharp, will they never eat broccoli again.”
“When I’m not there, are they okay?”
“Will they recover if I let them fail?”
“If I’m not there to introduce them, will they make a friend?’
Of course, no one wants to see our child struggle, get hurt or fail. As parents, it is in our inherent nature to protect them from all manner of harm – physical, social and emotional. But sometimes, the best protection may be to support their growth by stepping back, giving space, letting the failures and struggles happen so they can promote resilience, courage and flexibility.
Clinical psychologist Maureen Monaghan of Children’s National Medical Center is quoted as saying, “It is a great idea to give kids an experience of being on their own in a structured, supportive, supervised environment…even just one night away from parents can be valuable. … It definitely challenges kids — it takes them out of their comfort environment — but it’s usually really positive, and we see a lot of growth and maturing.”
Perhaps the biggest psychological impact of camp is on resilience, on character and on learning to be a member of a community that’s separate from your family; who always cut you some slack and who have preconceived notions about you. We often want to challenge our children in academic pursuits, but we hesitate to challenge them on an emotional level. How can you know if a child will be able to handle the ups and downs in life if they are not allowed to try to cross the street alone, climb a tree (and possibly fall), order and pay for their own popcorn at a movie or go off to camp without you, to make friends and memories without you and to navigate the inherent social and emotional challenges that are part of those experiences without you? Resilience is a learned behavior, easier for some than others, but it must be cultivated and honed through life experience – it’s what gets you through the hard times in life.
Sometimes the problem is that we find it hard to recognize we have a regressive effect on the lives of our children, and sometimes in order for kids to reach their full potential, they have to get away from that regressive pull – and that means we need to “get away” from them.
So as you consider camps, either day camp or sleep-away camps this summer, realize that in sending them off on their own, you are quite possibly sending them into a stronger, more secure future.