The Big Secret
Bob Strodel, Executive Director
The rewards for the late summer nights, the constant unanticipated events that occur with 500 people on grounds, the ‘wild’ and creative programming, and the occasional headaches and heartaches with campers and staff, are the “thank you” letters from parents I get every year. Each letter, like each camper, is unique; however they contain a constant thread from letter to letter. “My kids really grew up while at camp.” Parents have often asked me our “secret” on how we accomplish this from year to year. Perhaps we feed them some special food, perhaps jumping off the blob or getting hit with a paintball knocks some sense into their heads, perhaps the Bible studies make them think and reflect about themselves, or maybe the wilderness experiences give them a perspective on life they have never seen while they climb a mountain. Clearly these activities contribute to the experience; however I need to share with you our ‘secret’. (This is a secret you should not share with your kids; after all, we don’t want to ruin their camp experience.) The ‘secret’ is: kids can be stretched and be challenged by being away from you. Radical thought? For some parents, perhaps. The job of parenting is, to a great degree, a large balancing act. On one hand we protect and nurture, on the other hand we need to prepare our kids for the future we when are not around. It is a balancing act that most parents struggle to achieve and maintain. The New York Times ran a series of articles about “Helicopter parents.” Familiar with the term? It refers to parents who “hover” over their kids in an overbearing manner; when the balancing act goes too far in one direction. The “hovering” is done at home, school, Little League and through life. The intentions of a helicopter parent are good, but sometimes the noise from the rotor is a bit much to take and can get into the way of the normal development of a child. The article went on to state that the last 18 years have provided the helicopter parents new tools that make the process easier and faster. I was speaking to a Deer Run parent the other day and asked her how the newly married daughter was doing having moved out of state. “Oh, I don’t miss her at all, she and I are on the cell phone several times each day.” The “constant contact” situation is actually getting worse. Cell phones and e-mail were only the start of technology applications that tie together family members and friends. For today’s adolescents, it is now text messaging and others because e-mail is too slow. As we work as parents to achieve a balance, we should be concerned about the helicopter parenting style for several reasons. First of all, our job as parents is to prepare our kids for the real world. In the real world adults don’t have helicopters protecting them. You forget your lunch and Mom is not there to drive it to you at work. Kids with helicopter parents sometimes lack basic social and survival skills. They don’t know how to solve their own problems through negotiations and coexisting with other people. Accountability and responsibility is always someone else’s problem, not their own. Secondly, life is filled with consequences and we need to allow our kids to experience those consequences. Many consequences are natural, and some are spiritual. The consequences do the teaching; the parents don’t need to nag, yell or embarrass the child. When we deny our kids the chance to learn through consequences, we deny them a more powerful learning opportunity than we can ever provide as parents. Third, we undermine the child’s refinement by never giving them the opportunity to fail. We all learn by doing, and if we develop children who have the fear of failure, they never will try. Failure is not falling down after trying something. You are not a failure until you don’t get back up. How does this all relate back to camp? The environment at camp is a unique world for kids to get away from the helicopter, and learn lessons through natural consequences and trial and error. Many times, at this stage of development, adolescents will be more responsive to some non-parental involvement and coaching. As parents, we need to recognize this, not feel threatened, and enlist other adults and organizations to help support our kids as they grow into themselves – into their own identity. This is why at camp we don’t allow cell phones, or for the campers to e-mail home, or for campers to receive phone calls. It is important for both the camper and the parent to have space away from each other. On each Incoming day, I meet with first-time parents, and my advice for them is always the same. You have entrusted us with your kids. We have been doing this for over 60 years. Go home. Relax. Have some fun. Take your wife to Aruba. Don’t feel guilty about leaving your child at camp… it is one of the BEST gifts you can give them…two or four weeks away from you! When they get home they will have more self- confidence and you will notice progress in the maturity process. After all, isn’t that what we want for our kids?