Camp News & Blog

Silliness and spirit at summer camp

The Camp Answer

Two recent articles written by highly respected researchers have me thinking summer camp may be just the form of ‘medicine’ our kids need.

Researcher and author Jonathan Haidt has pointed to social media being the most likely culprit in the worsening mental health of our young people, especially teen girls. There is a great deal of info that I won’t go into here but you can read through his research in After Babel.

Specifically, Haidt points to the ‘like’ feature on the different apps which came into being in and around 2012. Rather than being about connection, social media morphed into performance or acceptance.

In another attempt to explain the rising mental health crisis, researchers recently published an article in the Journal of Pediatrics pointing to the lack of independent play in our children’s lives which seems to lead to negative outcomes. While we parents mean well, sometimes the over-reach can actually be long-term detrimental to our children.

Perhaps Camp is the Answer

As with most things, there are most likely a large number of inputs which is leading to the worsening mental state of many of our children. But, having been a summer camp director and watching children play and form communities for the past 22 summers (holy cow….), the two possible culprits above seem to make a lot of sense. And, in my mind, camp seems more and more like a very good answer to these predicaments.

While I’m a big fan of Weequahic, I’m completely convinced that if Weequahic is not right for a family, I want them to head to another camp rather than not do it at all. (And, if you know a friend who is searching, might I suggest another camp in Wayne County?)

What other environment combines insane amounts of fun, near-peer role models and a laboratory for socio-emotional learning? Oh, and there is a WHOLE LOT of independent, unstructured play. And no cell phones or tech. And kids meeting other kids from literally all over the world.

Jump into that pool for a few weeks (or whole summer) and watch what happens. Kids consistently head home saying ‘I didn’t even miss my phone’ and ‘best summer ever’ and ‘what can’t school be more like camp.’ The positive impact to our campers’ mental health is enormous. In fact, the ACA has actually put the power of camp into a research study.

Going Forward

I’m not suggesting parents cancel their kids’ social media or let them play willy nilly in the streets. We don’t all the latter, either. However, the more like camp our kids’ lives can be at home, I bet the happier and more well-attuned they’ll be.

Can’t wait for camp,

Addition by Subtraction

In the grand scheme of history, we have a lot. And, it seems we are always adding more. Sometimes this is a good thing. Other times, not so much.

Technology allows us to do so much more now than ever before. In fact, if you showed your phone to a person from just 100 years ago, they would think it a magical device. And, we’ve all seen the people who are glued to their phones walking the streets… and almost getting hit by a car. We could all do with a little less.

What about food? In many parts of society, it’s everywhere, all the time. And, while there are still too many people who struggle with a lack of food, we, as a society, actually have a larger problem consuming too much rather than too little. Some of us are really good at managing the excess. Others (like me!) struggle with saying ‘no’ to that extra two… or three cookies.

Camp is no different. We are always adding things to the property. In fact, I’m really excited about a new plan for building something fun down near the lake. We are also looking forward to our campers enjoying another two new programs this summer.

But, just like Chef Daniel’s cookies, you can have too much of a good thing. When camp becomes more about ‘things’ and less about the people, we’ve lost our way.

Sometimes the way to feeling or being better is to subtract rather than add.

What Should You Subtract?

Here’s a question for you: What, if you were take it away from your regular use, would make things better for you in the long-term?

For example, I spent a lot of time looking at info on twitter in January. I’d been helping our middle son with his college football recruiting and the ‘blue bird’ seems to be the biggest avenue for that process. T was purposeful… most of the time. At first.

Yet, even though I was trying to learn and help, I found myself falling deeper and deeper into the comparison trap, worrying about things outside of my control and, generally, becoming more anxious and impatient about the recruiting process.

Then camp happened. I got really busy with connecting with our campers and parents. I’ve traveled a lot recently to do home visits. We are putting the finishing touches on some camp projects and I’ve been helping with our Wayne County Camp Alliance friends.

In essence, I took a break from twitter and, frankly, I feel a whole lot better. Jack will be recruited based on what he does on the field and how his coaches help him. My job as his dad is to love, support and prepare him to go out independently into the world. By consuming less twitter, I’m actually adding to what is (much) more important.

Adding at Camp

Camp has a way of doing this for all of us naturally.

When we are together on the shores around Sly Lake, we put away most of the world’s distractions and focus on being truly present. And, yes, it is a gift.

Rather than sitting in the distractions of the digital world, we move. Instead of connecting with our thumbs, we are drenched in fabulous community. As opposed to our normal routines of school, homework, activity, bed it’s all connection, play, connection, play and hit the bed exhausted and smiling and full.

By taking away a lot of the devices and routines that fill out time at school and at home, we actually add space to fill ourselves with more moments and less things, more connection and less connectivity, more joy and less comparison.

Sometimes subtracting is actually adding.

Camp Weequahic Summer Sleepaway Camp in Pennsylvania

The Expectation Antidote

Bold claim: We have an epidemic-level of ‘expectation’ running through society and it’s making us miserable. What do I mean? Here are a couple possible examples. Maybe they fit your life:

You wake up and open the app on your phone and expect a few new ‘likes’, news that confirms what you already think or a dozen snaps from snap-friends. You expect the ride to school to be easy or breakfast to be warm, tasty and already prepared. The test you took last week – you crushed it and expect a good grade when it’s returned.

What happens when reality doesn’t match those expectations? When those expected notifications on your phone are missing? When it’s another bowl of stale cereal? When that grade is well below what you expected?

You get disappointed, angry or sad. If you aren’t careful, these feelings can build up and make you forget something we learn and practice at camp each summer: we get to choose how we react… to anything.

My Own Expectations – An Example

When we expect, we are already planning our reaction to that event. When I expect a new family to enroll after meeting with them, I’m already planning on throwing a party, sending a fun t-shirt out to the new camper and adding them to the bunk list in my head. It’s going to be great!

However, when they decide to go to another camp (which does happen every so often and I hope they have a fabulous summer), my future party plans have been foiled and my emotions turned into a bit of a twist.

While I may have some influence over that family’s decision, do I have control over it? Nope. They get to decide what they’d like to do and will simply tell me. Should I expect that they will enroll? No, not really. That can lead to those hard feelings.

What’s the antidote to the negative emotions of fail expectations?


When we approach new situations – and even old ones – with appreciation, it changes things for the better. From the examples above: ‘Wow – I’ve got a phone and all these apps that literally connect me to 85% of the world – crazy!’ Or: ‘Lot of kids don’t have anything to eat – I appreciate this meal before school.’ With the test – and this may be the most challenging: ‘Ok, this s a good lesson and opportunity to learn what I didn’t really know.’

One of the most successful humans in recent years is Oprah Winfrey. Here’s what she has to say about appreciation:

“Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.”

Here’s a little exercise that you can put into practice whenever you’d like: look around at your situation and ask yourself: what have I not noticed before. And then appreciate what you find. That means you need to think for a moment about how it makes your life a tiny bit better.

So… No Expectations Then?

Nope! Expectations can be really helpful… as long as you can control the outcome. In my ‘new family’ example above, I would expect that I had prepared to the best of my ability, answered all of their questions honestly and thoughtfully, and did my best to build a relationship with them in the time we had together.

Then, whether they enroll at camp or not, I’ll have met my expectations… of what I can control. And if they do decide to enroll, I should appreciate their choice. Should they decide on another option, I should appreciate the time we spent together and learn from it. And then move on.

Campers, let’s be thoughtful on how we approach our days. Do so with expectations for yourself and appreciation for all else and you’ve got the start of a winning formula.