While not for every child or family unit, sleepaway camp has long been a staple of the American childhood. Pre-pandemic, there were an estimated 14,000 summer camps in the US of which around 8,400 of them were overnight camps, according to the American Camp Association. Yet, these days, lingering pandemic concerns as well as a more protective approach to parenting has led mothers and fathers to balk at the thought of sending their child away from home and out into nature for the summer.
Let’s examine three reasons why parents should send their kids to sleepaway camp and three reasons why they shouldn’t.
Three reasons why kids benefit from sleepaway camp
At sleepaway camp, kids unplug by being kept active
During the school year, boys and girls are generally sedentary, spending an average of six hours a day behind their desks. They then devote an average of seven hours in front of electronic media, i.e., screen time, up from an average of four hours pre-pandemic. At sleepaway camp, though, activities like rock climbing, human foosball, day-long color wars and water fights make kids excited to unplug and get physically active. Even just walking across the large, open spaces of the campgrounds to get from one activity to the other gives kids exercise that they most likely don’t get all year round. Not to mention group singalongs and face-to-face activities, like drama, art, dance, music, etc., with other campers nurture socialization skills that often get rusty because of too much solitary screen time.
Sleepaway camps also provide the opportunity to spend time in nature, which is relaxing and fosters introspection. Stepping away from smartphones, computers and other tech grants children the mental space to think more deeply about themselves, their surroundings, and their roles in life. This can enable children to become mentally, emotionally as well as physically healthier, as the fresh air cleanses their minds and their bodies.
Absence makes the heart grow fonder
When boys and girls go to sleepaway camp, they are essentially taking a break from family life – and from regular interactions with their family members. The temporary separation of children from parents and siblings can help reduce tensions and rivalry that may exist in daily family life and can have a restorative effect on each member of the family. Sending the children to sleepaway camp can also be beneficial for both parents, who will have quality time as a couple and can focus on maintaining and improving their romantic relationship.
Sleepaway camp fosters individuality and self-growth
Sleepaway camp fosters individuality. Away from the constraints of home and school, the unpressured environment of sleepaway camp gives children the memorable opportunity to discover themselves, uncover talents, learn new skills and boost their independence. These are all skills that will surely benefit them throughout the course of lives – in school, on the job and within relationships. The kids who come home after sleepaway camp often return with a newfound confidence and fresh, positive outlook on home and life in general.
Three reasons why kids shouldn’t go to sleepaway camp
Kids need time to play freely
Today’s children spend half the time playing outside than their parents did and have much less roaming space than we or our parents had. What they need is more time and encouragement to create their own play and activities. And while we cannot avoid the structure and rigidity required during the school year, during summer children should be given the opportunity to dabble with creativity and cope with boredom; they should not be shuttled by camp counselors from their bunks to structured activities, around the clock.
Sleepaway camp is expensive
More than half of American consumers (64%) live paycheck to paycheck. This means that after paying for necessities like rent, utilities, food and health care, there isn’t any money left for luxuries. And among the lucky few who do have money left at the end of the month, spending several thousands of dollars on sleepaway camp for Tina or Jimmy just isn’t as appealing as a whole family vacation or some other splurge everyone can enjoy. Why not instill in children the personal and practical skills acquired at camp from home – through summer jobs or family activities and outings on the weekends?
Say goodbye to adult supervision (and good hygiene, nutrition, etc.)
At sleepaway camp, counselors, often still young themselves, are in charge of making sure that their campers regularly eat, shower and wear clean underwear. It’s no wonder, then, that hygiene and nutrition can suffer. More worrying, though, is that our kids’ emotional well-being may suffer, too.
Although some camps require their counselors to be 18 or older, many camps hire counselors as young as 16 and accept 14- and 15-year-old junior counselors. These teen or pre-teen counselors may not be equipped to maintain the levels of cleanliness, proper eating and emotional support that children need to thrive. Who’s to know if they, themselves, have the emotional maturity to recognize or deal with any sensitive issues, like bullying or other mental distress, that their campers may experience?
The Bottom Line: While summer camp can be fun and provide kids with memorable experiences, the sleepaway camp experience is not the only way for boys and girls to spend the lazy days of summer. Do you think children should go to sleepaway camp?