Why is the role of the camp counselor so important?
Age cohorts are so separate these days, so it’s very inspiring for the youngsters to be surrounded by smarter, cooler older kids. In school, the leaders are people much older than the kids, people the same age as most kids’ parents. The adult experience doesn’t seem very psychologically available to kids. But a 19-year-old counselor…that’s someone who is within striking distance of a tween. And these counselors are not just their caregivers but their developmental road map to the future.
What is the perfect age for a child to start attending summer camp?
It really depends on the readiness of the child. Has he or she expressed a desire to go to camp? Is he or she good at doing sleepovers? Has your child spent a few nights with Grandpa or with an aunt and uncle? I’ve seen boys as young as 7 go to eight-week sleepaway camp, and I’ve seen 14-year-old girls who still aren’t ready. The trick is, you do it because you want to do it. You repay your own investment. But the best practice for camp is sleepovers. And the best practice for college is camp.
How exactly does camp prepare children for college?
Would you send your 18-year-old son off to college if he had never left home for a single night? College admissions staff look [favorably] at people who have been to camp because taking care of younger children is the single most significant thing that an older child can do to prepare for leadership. For example, if you’re on waterfront staff—canoes, boating, swimming—you’re in charge of the lives of other kids. High school doesn’t give you anything like that kind of responsibility.
One of the simple joys of camp is the ban on cellphones, personal music players, and other electronics. But you note with dismay that many camps are now “breaking down” and allowing electronics. Is it possible that these camps are just adapting to today’s reality?
None of us thinks we can live without electronics. We’re all completely hooked. So it’s useful for kids to see and know that we can survive without electronics. If you want to see 250 boys doing recreational reading, camp is the place to see that.
Why did you write this book?
Parents kept asking me how they could do a better job, how they could do more for their child. Well, do less, I told them! Overall, we need less parental presence. This ‘over-parenting’ is just making our kids soft. So my book is a gentle way to remind parents that it is good for kids to spend time away from their parents. It’s my way of saying “back off!” I’m reminding parents that they had fun when they were independent little kids.