Summer camp enrollment season is gearing up and the choices run the gamut from music to technology to traditional. Those who are able to ship their kids off for a week or more during the summer may want to maximize their investment by choosing a camp with an intellectual component. Yet there is hidden value in the easy-going routine of traditional camp.
Choices bombard adults these days. From what to wear, to what to eat, what to buy and how to spend our time, we spend a huge amount of mental and emotional energy trying to make the right choices every hour of every day. In our quest to respect our children’s individuality and help them follow their hearts, we have extended the superabundance of choices to our children. Day in and day out they make decisions that affect not only their direct lives but those of their parents. We give them the power to choose or at least strongly influence everything from what the family will have for dinner to where they will go for vacation. At a certain point, as pointed out by Barry Schwartz in, The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less, all this freedom can become stressful and negatively impact quality of life. The pressure to make the right decision can detract from the joy of being able to choose. The plethora of choices we face on a daily basis can cause us to feel stressed, dissatisfied, and anxious.
This is where traditional camps come in. Traditional camps can give kids a break from the strain of daily choices. Summer camps have a nice routine and a decided lack of choices. Clothing choices are limited to what was packed before they left for camp. Meals are at very specific times and frequently filled with structure and tradition. Food choices are all but non-existent. While campers can choose whether they will eat, the kitchen doesn’t give them the option of choosing dishes they may like better. Crafts, swim times, and campfires unfold on a schedule designed to accommodate different ages and cabin groups and there it little burden of choice on individual campers. Add to this the fact that most traditional camps ban electronics and old-fashioned camps become one of the few places modern kids can experience true mental calmness.
When considering camp options this summer remember that more is not always better. Take a good look at camps with fewer activity choices, especially those in rustic, natural settings. These traditional camps may offer the best experience for kids that, whether they realize it or not, need a break for their stressful, choice-filled worlds.
School is cancelled for the third time this trimester due to extreme cold. Today’s bonus time with the kids has given me an opportunity to reflect on how my parenting philosophy and style has evolved over the last decade. When the kids were little, I sweated the small stuff. I wanted to make sure they felt special and were on time, prepared, and neatly dressed for the carefully selected enrichment activities that filled our weeks.
Now, I’m just focused on trying to prepare them for the upcoming zombie apocalypse or adulthood. Whichever comes first, I figure we are covered either way. To that end, I’m trying to impart in them self-sufficiency, resilience, and guile. As we go through our days, weeks, and years, I am trying to mentally move beyond the day-to-day and as challenges arise, figure out what they can learn from the challenge that will help them to ultimately survive the zombie apocalypse (the ZA), or again, thrive in adulthood.
To that end, here are some parenting guidelines:
- Acknowledge and appreciate birthdays, don’t try to make them special. In the upcoming ZA, no one is going to have the time or resources to give them an amazing birthday celebration every year. They will be happier in the long run if they don’t expect to be wow’d on their birthday.
- Authority and rules matter. If you are going to break them, consider it carefully and be prepared to take the heat and defend your actions. Chain of command, expectations, and rules will keep their group alive during the ZA (or again, in the work world). Any deviation from these must be carefully weighed because there will be consequences. During the ZA, helicopter parenting will not save them from their poor choices.
- Everyone needs to understand nutrition, be able to politely eat food they hate, and be able to cook. Our kitchen is not a restaurant. If they don’t like what is for dinner, they are to keep it to themselves. I gave them cookbooks for Christmas, if they want to eat food they like, they should learn to cook. Who know what food will be available during the ZA or if they might need to impress a boss or international client over some kind of disgusting meal. Being able to eat food you hate without visibly gagging is a life skill.
- Everyone does their own laundry. Don’t have clothes you need for school or the presentation? Too bad, you know how those machines work. This is the easy to teach, just stop doing their laundry and watch them rise to the challenge. Again, a life skill that granted, will probably be more important if the ZA does not actually come to pass.
- Learn how to fail. Today’s parents frequently skip over teaching the kids how to fail. They instead focus on preventing failures or rescuing kids from their failures. Many kids never learn how to fail. They need to know how to handle a failure, work through it, learn lessons from it, and move on. Kids need experience with failure and how to survive it to know they are capable of handling the inevitable setbacks during the ZA, and/or adulthood.
- Friends matter. Taking the time to make and nurture good friendships is as important as doing well in school. When you are MaGyvering the creative attack on the zombie’s stronghold, you will need your friends to watch your back. Friends are also essential for celebrating life’s victories and mourning life’s loses. Being there for a friend is one of the great joys in life.
Know that the assignment due tomorrow that hasn’t been started, the messed up piece during the recital, the “A” in science, and the “F” in history are not important. What is important is what is learned from those successes and challenges. Learning to make the most of opportunities presented, make your own opportunities, and move forward, even in the face of failure, is what matters. Successes and disappointments all create emotional, intellectual, and physical responses. When parenting for the zombie apocalypse, take the long-range view that you are shaping responses, building habits which will guide them in the future. Today doesn’t matter.
Oh and fire, everyone should know how to build a fire.