Is Summer Camp for Parents or Children? by Steve Amoia and Andrew T. Durham
Many years ago, Newt Gingrich discussed the need to re-parent a new generation of younger workers. What he didn’t address in detail was the root cause: Controlling parents who do not allow their children to develop their own sense of independence.
Today, there is apparently an over-compensation response to the daycare as parenting era. And this has worked famously, hasn’t it? We have a rampant epidemic of disrespect from younger (and older) people, the total lack of honor or integrity in the socialization of the young, and the complete absence of discipline throughout society as a whole. Apparently, it doesn’t take village to raise a child. It takes actual parents who see their children as more than status symbols, obligations or, worse, pets.
Recently, the New York Times discussed a new trend in summer camps. Namely, the amount of time (one estimate was 80%) summer camp managers and administrators spent on demanding parents rather than their children.
“Their parents, meanwhile, were bombarding the camp with calls: one wanted help arranging private guitar lessons for her daughter, another did not like the sound of her child’s voice during a recent conversation, and a third needed to know — preferably today — which of her daughter’s four varieties of vitamins had run out. All before lunch."
Catherine Steiner-Adair, a clinical psychologist in Massachusetts who consults with residential camps, said they can be among the best places for children to develop social skills and resilience — if only parents allow it. ‘If your child doesn’t get the bunk they want or you’re worried that he didn’t get the right camp counselor, if you convey that kind of response — Oh my God, that’s awful, let me call them, it’s so unfair — that’s the worst possible response a parent could have,’ she said. But more of that is happening.’ ”
This generation of parents did not grow up with mobile phones, instant messages, the Internet, email, GPS, iPhones, or other modern advances in technology. Yet they seem to be very reluctant to allow their children off of these new electronic leashes. Surely, the new technology has a purpose as parents juggle hectic lives; however, at whose expense? Are we raising self-aware and self-sufficient offspring if we don't allow them to grow up and experience the world on their own? Anyone with a modicum of observational ability surely has been able to see the writing on the wall, heralding the looming disaster of Internet socialization. This is not experiencing the world. It is a world based on anonymity with no regard for the consequences of what we do or say, let alone the necessary exposure to real life disappointment, or triumph. Gone is interpersonal interaction, which is vital to socialization. And despite parental controls galore, many young people see this as a challenge, rather than reasonable limitation.
Summer camp used to be a rite of passage to allow children to interact with others outside of the safe confines of the family cocoon. Now, as we have seen from the Times article, it has been become an extension of the American parent's need for seemingly obsessive control. And as we all know, the more you try to control something the more slippery it gets in your fingers. It is almost as if some parents are imposing a classic abusive relationship on their children. We all know that those kinds of relationships always turn out for the best. Right?
Parents Living Through Their Children
There seems to be a reluctance to allow young people to make mistakes, learn, grow, and perhaps take a step back before they advance forward. As we have seen in organized youth sports, parents often vicariously live through their children. Screaming parents at baseball or soccer games have become the norm. Rarely do we see children playing on their own without some sort of adult supervision. Obviously, safety concerns for children are important in public places, but don't children need "free time" away from adults to foster their own identities and development? In a culture where everything is scheduled with military precision, are we creating robotic children that don't fully develop until much later than in previous eras? Can't we give them a week or two at a summer camp and/or other youth environments without constant parental interference? Not to mention numerous calls per day due to mobile phones to monitor their lives? There used to be a time when children were allowed to be influenced by other respectable adults. Nowadays, there seems to be a lack of willingness or trust to allow other adults to have meaningful roles. If only for a week or a few hours during a sporting event.
Quality over Quantity
In soccer, the game lasts for 90 minutes. You may have the ball only 5 minutes of that time; consequently, what you do during the other 85 minutes is equally important in terms of preparation, anticipation, and understanding your role in the team. In baseball, a relief pitcher may one see one inning of work that decides the game. He learns to study the game in anticipation of his limited but important role that may occur when the outcome of the game is in the balance. If we take these two analogies to the important role of parenting, perhaps we need to give our children more time on the ball, and less influence controlling the other 85 minutes or 8 innings. Prepare them for the five minutes or one inning in life that counts on a daily basis.
Further, it is a mistake to shelter children from what we call tragedy or loss of life. We are raising generation after generation of spineless people who can’t deal with life’s curve balls, let alone the views and convictions of others. It is almost like we are caught in the self-centric world of the small child. The political correctness movement, and the neurosis involved in that entire concept, is a prime example of trying to coddle people from being offended by the free speech of others. As is the new M.O. in this culture if one person is too weak to tolerate the views of others, we dissolve the rights of everyone else so we don’t offend someone. That is insane. Yet that’s where we’re headed.
The entire concept of sheltering someone from the words of others is rooted in the maniacal need to substitute control for parenting: the Nanny State, if you will. Because of this substitution of real relationships, we are now seeing its fruits in youth crime and the gang culture. In many inner city neighborhoods, gangs provide the role models and the ground rules for the younger kids. Rebellion against authority is the order of the day. And we all know that always works out well.
Where did the family go, and what did it take with it when it left? It certainly wasn’t succeeded by some “village”. Not when gangs are the cops, parents and mentors. Or worse.
No. The art of parenting need not be a lost art. And there are many masterpieces yet to be created if we are to get through the future we are seeing unfold before our tired eyes; a future that needs to be reminded:
If you can’t raise your kids, you will raze your kids.
What do you think? Do we need parental summer camps to teach adults to relax a little more, or do children benefit from all of this control?
Steve Amoia's writing portfolio and contact information can be found at www.sanstefano.com.
Andrew T.Durham is a graduate of State University at Albany, with a degree in Psychology/Philosophy. In the late 80's to mid 90's he was instrumental in creating ground-breaking outreach/prevention programs, as well as being a highly successful public speaker. A former acupuncturist and clinician (primarily to inner city adolescents), he has also been a consultant to the Massachusetts State Department of Public Health and several non-profit organizations. He is an accomplished musician - proficient in 7 instruments - ,actor and author of 10 plays, 5 of which have been produced. He is currently a consultant for small non-profit agencies and lives in Rochester, NY