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Parking Your Helicopter

By Audrey “Sunshine” Monke, Camp Director
Originally published on her website, Sunshine Parenting.

Parking Your Helicopter by Sending Your Kids to Camp!As parents of this generation, we’ve been told that great parenting means being super-involved with our children and always being in constant communication with them. We give them cell phones as soon as we feel they are ready to have a bit of independence, so that we can be assured that they will call us the minute they need us.

There are many benefits to this parenting style. We know our kids well and have developed close family relationships. We also know each of their homework assignments (and assist with a few of them), the drills they did at soccer practice
(because we either coached their team or stayed and watched), and what they ate for snack at school. The downside to our “helicopter” parenting, though, is it makes it
difficult for our children to develop their independence, problem-solving, and decision-making skills.

Hooray for camp! Without a cell phone (or their parent next to them) to immediately turn to when they are faced with a decision, campers learn to use other resources – including their own great minds. Without us watching them and being a reminder of what they’ve been scared of in the past, they challenge themselves and try something new. The confidence that results from their accomplishments and independence can be life-changing, and the best thing we hear from our campers and parents is that camp truly makes their life better.

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According to past staff member and camper, Renee “Zippy” Tucknott, “Gold Arrow Camp taught me early in life that I can survive in the world without my parents making my decisions, and I am able to make my own decisions and choices that will impact my life. When I got to college, I experienced some of the same decisions and choices and already knew I could survive on my own.”

As technology has provided us with the ever-increasing ability to be in touch– immediately – with everyone, it has also given the children and young adults of this generation a crutch that we (those of us in our late 30s and up) did not have. When faced with a decision or problem with a friend, we had to rely on ourselves first and later discuss it with our parents. Now, kids are getting accustomed to calling their parents before attempting to solve the challenge on their own.

Wall-3650At GAC, we have a great support network to help our campers work through challenges, fears, and problems that may come up. They never feel “alone,” but they feel independent from their parents, and a lot of pride comes from that independence.

So, enjoy your child’s stay at GAC this summer and rest assured that while your helicopter is parked, your child is spreading their wings!

Related Articles

Visit Sunshine Parenting or follow Sunshine on Facebook or Pinterest for links to other articles and ideas about camp and parenting. 

Nature Pees and Lanyard Fishing Poles

Written by: Audrey “Sunshine” Monke, Camp Director at Gold Arrow Camp.

Backpacking

Watching the campers construct fishing poles out of sticks and lanyard string, I had a revelation.  Kids rarely get a chance to play like this any more.   And, boy, are they good at it when they are given the opportunity!

For the first time in many years, I went on a GAC backpacking trip last summer. Led by experienced and fun backpacking instructors, Cabin 0 and I enjoyed a fun-filled afternoon and overnight at Indian Falls before returning to camp the following morning.

Nature Pees During the hike, we sang songs, did riddles, and talked as we walked. We took a break to play “Camouflage” at Indian Pools. One camper stood in a designated spot while the rest of us hid in the surrounding area. We had to be able to see the “Spotter,” who carefully looked around at the surrounding rocks, trees, and bushes to try to spot us. We drank our water and ate our special camp trail mix – a homemade concoction of granola and LOTS of chocolate. Since it was warm, our chocolate melted, making a gooey, cookie-like substance that tasted much better out on a trail than it ever would at home.

When we reached our destination, we weren’t overly tired (it’s about a two and a half mile trip), but we were hot and ready to go in the water. In the pool below Indian Falls, the kids swam, played in the waterfall, and explored. Three hours passed while the girls entertained themselves playing in and around the water. When the group counselor brought down lanyard string, several of the girls made fishing poles. I was struck by how naturally creative kids are when left to their own devices.  And I was so thankful that our campers have the opportunity to just play, without adults providing all of the structure, all of the time.

I was also thankful that our children get to spend a night in an even more remote and natural setting than camp. Several of the girls were experienced GAC campers who were well versed in “nature peeing,” which is what is required when you’re out in the wilderness without toilets of any kind. One first-year camper proudly declared at campfire that she had done her first “nature pee.”  I thought about how many kids (and people) don’t want to spend a night in the wilderness, because they can’t bear the thought of being without the comforts of home. These girls absolutely loved being there and felt a tremendous sense of accomplishment at carrying their belongings and learning to live outdoors. I know they are developing a love of the outdoors and am so glad they had the opportunity to backpack at Gold Arrow Camp.
Backpacking

Our dinner was grilled cheese and pesto sandwiches (pesto optional) and tasted delicious. Everything tastes better cooked over a campfire! We ate through two loaves of bread before we moved on to s’mores and a cookie concoction that was slightly charred on the outside but gooey and delicious on the inside.

The girls shared their highs and lows of the day around the campfire before we brushed our teeth using our water bottles and climbed into our sleeping bags to enjoy the night sky. I woke up several times and never quite found a comfortable position on the hard dirt, but the stars provided a great backdrop to a restless night of sleep. The campers, however, all declared in the morning how well they slept. Ah, the miracle of childhood!

We returned to camp with dirty faces, hands, and clothes, but we felt fantastic and had an experience all of us will remember forever.

Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder is a great book about the importance of getting our kids out in nature. 

Let’s get our kids unplugged and show them how amazing, beautiful, and fun it is to be outside!

Catch Them Doing the Right Thing

Keeping Things Positive

I’ve often thought it would be great if all parents could go through the kind of training and orientation we provide our counselors. I’ve heard many times from past counselors that they learned a lot of their parenting techniques from working at camp! Here are a few ways to catch your child “doing the right thing.”

Staying Positive

Often, parents and teachers spend a lot of time focused on what they don’t want their children to be doing, instead of on what they do want them to be doing.  At Gold Arrow Camp, we train our counselors in positive behavior management techniques.  Here are three of the concepts we teach our counselors:

“Catch Them Doing Something Right”

Instead of looking for what a camper is doing incorrectly, we focus immediately on what they are doing well.   When kids realize that we will notice the good stuff they do, they are encouraged to do more of the desired, good behaviors.  A side benefit is that other campers see that we notice good behavior and are encouraged to do the same, so that they, too, will get positive attention.   If most of the cabin group is doing something incorrectly, we compliment and point out the kids who are doing what we like rather than nagging the rest of them.   So, instead of “Stop messing around and get your shoes on for breakfast,” we say, “Hey, great job getting your shoes on the first time I asked, Joe and Sam.”  Everyone else hears our compliment and are encouraged to get moving (and perhaps listen the first time we ask next time)!

At home, my favorite example of this is “Great job having your napkin in your lap, Owen.”  By complimenting one child, the rest are immediately reminded to do what you complimented on.

Refrain from using “Don’t” and “No”

In phrasing rules and instructions at GAC, we use positive wording whenever possible.   When adults use “don’t” or “no,” children often only hear the only part of the sentence that comes after the “don’t” or “no.”    It’s much more effective to let campers know what we DO want them doing.  On a ski boat, our instructors will say, “Keep your hands inside the boat,” instead of “Don’t put your hands outside the boat.” On a rocky trail where it’s safer to walk, instead of “Don’t run!,” we say, “Walk, please!”

At home, this can be things like, “Keep your hands and feet to yourself,” when kids are poking or hitting each other.   Or, “Time to clean up now,” instead of “No more playing.”

The 80-20 Rule

When discussing an inappropriate or negative behavior with a camper, we train our counselors in the “80-20″ rule.  Our counselors know that in a conversation with a camper about a behavioral issue, it’s best to do only 20% of the talking. The camper, in turn, does 80% of the talking while the counselor listens.   We want campers to figure out the impact their behavior had on others and determine their own plan for improvement. So, we ask open-ended questions, such as:

“How do you think your language affects the other kids in our group?”

“How would you feel if someone called you that name?”

“What can you do differently next time when you’re angry?”

When the camper thinks through and comes up with their own improvement plan, they have ownership in it and are much more likely to be successful. Plus, the counselor can then compliment them on their great idea for improvement and the conversation can have a positive tone and focus.

These are just a few of the many techniques we train our counselors to utilize at camp.  I think they can be extremely helpful for parents to use at home, too!

Good Gifts

Written by Audrey “Sunshine” Monke for Gold Arrow Camp

The best thing you can give your children, next to good habits,
are good memories.

-Sydney Harris

Our home is overrun with more electronic gadgets than there are people.  And, with our kids beyond the age where they ask for small toys, it’s difficult to think of a gift that is remotely needed other than new underwear and socks (not super exciting to unwrap, but they’ll get them anyway!).  There is, of course, an onslaught of ads aimed at our kids, convincing them that there are still toys, clothes, and electronic gadgets they must have. My nine and eleven-year-olds are convinced they “need” mini iPads this year. They’d also like iPhones, but they know that’s not happening.  Thinking back to my own childhood, I’m hard-pressed to remember many gifts I received.  And there is only one that I still have and use — my sewing machine!  So, as I do each holiday, I find myself wracking my brain for creative and fun gifts for my kids.

Most material gifts we’ve given our children over the years are outdated, broken, lost, or unused within months of the gifting. I (and my kids) can hardly remember what the gifts were.  We have closets and drawers full of past gifts waiting to be purged from the house and given or thrown away. Like most parents, I realize that there are far more important gifts we give our children than the ones we wrap in December for Christmas or Hannukah. I know the gifts that last are the ones that can’t be wrapped.  In fact, the best gifts aren’t tangible items but memories.   In the spirit of the holidays, I thought I’d write a list of suggested “gifts” for this season.   I hope you find something in here that you can give your child this year.

Read a book together. Even older kids like to hear a good book, but another option with older kids is to both read the same book, then meet to have your own “book club” to discuss it when you’re done.  I’ve always enjoyed reading with my kids.  It’s a great excuse to re-read my favorite books!  The boys and I are currently reading The Hobbit.  Since my memory is so bad, it’s like a new book to me even though I read it with my fourteen-year-old four years ago.  And, since there’s a movie coming out, we plan on seeing the movie after we’re done with the book.  A nice book wrapped up under the tree and the time spent reading it together in 2013 sound like a great gift!

• Play games together.  Okay, I have to admit I’m chuckling a little as I write this.  I love playing games — our recent favorite is Spot It, but Taboo is also high on our list.   However, given the competitive nature of most family members, games in our house often end with someone being disgruntled.  Our backgammon tournament with brackets comes to mind when I think of “games gone bad.”  Still, I imagine us being like the people in the TV commercials, all smiling and laughing together, and honestly most of us do have fun playing games.  For sure game nights produce memories (good and bad)!

Schedule “dates” with your kids.  I know families who have “date nights” with each of their children.   I love the idea and would like to work it into my gift giving this year. One child may want a lunch date, while another prefers a bike ride or a game of golf. In any case, spending time hanging out with our kids, doing something they want to do with us, is a gift indeed (for both them and us!). Time seems to be the hardest gift to give, but it is also most highly valued by the recipient.

•  Give an “event” gift.  These can be costly, but one popular gift we’ve given our older kids is concert tickets (with us included!).  We have a local theater company in our town, and I’m going to look into getting tickets to a musical or show this year.  Wrapping up the ticket in a gift bag with a ribbon makes it a “real” gift.  I like the idea of coupons for events, too.  So, if a child has an interest in something specific and would enjoy a specific outing, maybe create a coupon or certificate to present to them.  Last year, I gave my daughter a one day photography class using a local Groupon, and we had a great Saturday together in January learning how to use all the settings on our cameras.   I’m going to be looking for “event” gifts for each of my kids this year, as those are the gifts that are really memorable and useful, too!

• Plan fun family events. Anything you do as a family creates memories and is a gift that will be remembered. Whether it’s a movie and popcorn night at home or a walk through the neighborhood to see the holiday lights, the gift of time as a family is so important to our kids.  This Thanksgiving, I decreed a phone-free day.  We ended up finding many fun things to do together.  When we don’t have our phones and computers and TVs to default to, it’s amazing what we discover there is to do!  What about taking a family outing to play in the snow in local mountains (if you have some nearby)?

Remember family memories.   Like many of my gift suggestions, this one requires time. I love recording and recounting memories (my 36,059 photos on iPhoto prove it!). My kids never get tired of hearing stories from when they were little. Take some time this holiday to get out the old photos (or pull them up on the screen!) and create a book or collage or slide show together.  We also like to list our “Top 100 Memories” of the year.  It’s fun to reflect on what we’ve done together and what’s happened over the year.  In my fantasy, I create a Shutterfly book with pictures from the year to go along with our Top 100 Memories list.  But alas, that dream is going to have to wait until I find some more hours in my day!  My kids like going through pictures, though, so I like to enlist them to help with photo sorting.  My favorite gift last year from my husband was a hard drive with all of our family movies digitized on it.  We have had hours of entertainment watching our old home movies!

• Focus on giving. We live in a self-absorbed culture where our kids are being bombarded by messages about what they need to buy and how they need to look. A huge gift we can give our kids is to show them the joy in giving to others. One year, our children gave each of their grandparents a poster board with their hand prints and messages about what they liked about each grandparent. Two of those boards are now framed and adorning the hallway at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. Seeing how much their grandparents valued their homemade gift was an important lesson for our kids. There are many worthy organizations that are requesting gifts this time of year. I think a great gift to give our kids is the chance to participate in giving to others, either in our family or in our community.  We like to use the World Vision catalog and select gifts like laying chickens to provide a family with food or a bicycle to allow a child to get to school.  Heifer International also has a gift catalog with charitable gifts to give ranging from $10 and up.  We’ve had our kids set aside “sharing” money from their allowance, and they can use it how they choose.  This year, their school did a shoe box drive for Operation Christmas Child, and the boys enjoyed packing up boxes and writing notes.  We used the tracking option, so they will be able to see where their boxes end up.

• Give friendship, fun, and growth. I’ll wrap up my gift-giving suggestions with one of my favorites, camp! The gift of camp lasts a lot longer than any toy. Campers learn life skills, such as independence and responsibility, while having the time of their lives. Many of our camp families give camp as their child’s big gift for the holidays.  Especially for kids who have been to camp before, this is something they really appreciate.  I like the idea of wrapping up the “You’re going to camp!” note with a camp supply item — like a water bottle, beanie, sleeping bag, or disposable camera.

I haven’t started my shopping for this holiday.  I know there are many super-organized people out there who are done by October, but I can’t even begin thinking about gifts until after Thanksgiving.  Writing this post has made me realize that I don’t need to run out to a bunch of stores this year.  Phew!  What a relief! I’m already feeling less stressed about the holidays. :)   I wish you a stress-free holiday season where you can focus on creating family memories with your kids.

I’d love for you to share your ideas for non-material, memorable gifts to give children during the holidays and for birthdays.  Please use the comments section here!

Related articles

What’s the Best Non-Material Gift You Ever Received? (Huffington Post)
Last-Minute, Non-Material Gift Ideas
Non-Material Gift Ideas: Cheap, Green, & Awesome
Five Non-Material Gifts to Give this Season (Yahoo Voices)

Book Review: How Children Succeed

Written by Audrey “Sunshine” Monke for Gold Arrow Camp

“We think that even if your children have the academic skills they need – and we’re doing our best to make sure they do – if our young adults grow up and they don’t also have strong character skills, then they don’t have very much.  Because we know that character is what keeps people happy and successful and fulfilled.” -Tom Brunzell, Dean of Students at KIPP Infinity (quoted in Tough’s book)

I read Paul Tough’s latest book (How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character) with great interest as both a parent and as a youth development professional.  Tough, a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine, shares a compelling series of narratives about research studies, a chess team, and various schools and programs that have figured out, through trial and error, how to help youth succeed.  While he focuses primarily on children coming from poverty, he also discusses the issue of character development in affluent kids.   Throughout his book, Tough threads together an indisputable fact:  our children’s character matters – a lot.

As Tough states early in the book, “What matters most in a child’s development, they say, is not how much information we can stuff into her brain in the first few years.  What matters, instead, is whether we are able to help her develop a very different set of qualities, a list that includes persistence, self-control, curiosity, conscientiousness, grit, and self-confidence.  Economists refer to these as noncognitive skills, psychologists call them personality traits, and the rest of us sometimes think of them as character.”

Our challenge as parents, teachers, and others who work with youth, is providing our children with opportunities to develop the character traits that will help them find success later in life.

I highly recommend this book to parents, educators, and others who work with children and young adults.  Tough’s message about the importance of helping our youth develop character needs to permeate and change how we raise this generation of kids.  And his description of the programs and techniques that are working serves as a guide to those of us who want to help kids develop character strengths.

Character Traits Which Predict Success

“But over the past few years, it has become clear that the United States does not so much have a problem of limited and unequal college access; it has a problem of limited and unequal college completion…. [students] need qualities of motivation and perseverance – as well as the presence of good study habits and time management skills –“

-Paul Tough, How Children Succeed

 

According to Tough (and the many research studies he cites), certain character traits are much better predictors of success than a child’s IQ or test scores.  Among these traits, an important one is the ability to delay gratification.  As we have seen in our debt-ridden culture, many adults who do not have this skill create for themselves some major life problems and disappointments — the antithesis of success.

So how do we help kids learn to be better at delaying gratification?  There’s only one way.   They cannot get everything they want right when they want it.   They need to not get some things, face that disappointment, and have to work for a long time to earn what they want.   According to Tough, affluent parents are often guilty of “overindulging kids, with the intention of giving them everything and being loving, but at the expense of their character…”   Learning to work for something they’d like to purchase, or waiting until they achieve a particular milestone, is helpful in building up our kids’ “delayed gratification” skills.   Even if we can afford the latest technological gadget our child desires, it does them a disservice if we always run out and purchase it for them.

Tough acknowledges how hard it is for parents to not give in to our children’s desires,  “…in fact, we have an acute, almost biological impulse to provide for our children, to give them everything they want and need, to protect them from dangers and discomforts both large and small.  And yet we know – on some level, at least – that what kids need more than anything is a little hardship: some challenge, some deprivation they can overcome, even if just to prove to themselves that they can.”

An episode on Modern Family last season featured the dilemma of Haley not having any hardship to write about on her college application.   Her mom created one by dropping her off miles from home and making her walk home.   It was a humorous example of a real problem — Colleges want to see that our kids have some “grit,” because they will need it to complete college.  But for many kids, their lives have not been conducive to developing that particular trait.  Life is often too easy for kids on the higher end of the socioeconomic spectrum.

As a camp director I talk to a lot of parents, most of whom are very supportive and sane (since they’re willing to let their kids go to camp in the first place!).  I remember one mom, though, who couldn’t stand her daughter experiencing any discomfort at all.    She was extremely upset that the “bear bag” (food bag kept up in a tree so as to avoid having animals come into camp) got stuck up in the tree on her daughter’s backpacking trip.  The kids didn’t have any food for breakfast and had to wait until 9:00 am to eat.  She was horrified and distressed and could not understand how we could have allowed her daughter to face what seemed to her to be a terrible hardship.  I wonder how this parent might now be reacting to more serious hurdles her teenage daughter could be facing?  What impact does over-reaction have on the development of character?  I think that our well-meaning care, and sometimes over-reaction to negative events in our kids’ lives, doesn’t help them develop grit and other character traits we really want them to have.

Tough tells us about how, in recent decades, character traits have been studied and catalogued.   In their book, Character Strengths & Virtues: A Handbook for Classification, Martin Seligman and Chris Peterson include a list of 24 specific character strengths, including traits like fairness, integrity, humor, social intelligence, kindness, and gratitude.  On a list narrowed down by Peterson to be less unwieldy, we learn of seven strengths that are especially likely to predict satisfaction and high achievement.  Cultivating these character traits “represent[s] a reliable path to ‘the good life,’ a life that [is] not just happy but meaningful and fulfilling.”

The seven traits are: Grit; Self-control; Zest; Social intelligence; Gratitude; Optimism; and Curiosity.

In KIPP academies across America (charter schools with high academic standards geared towards low income kids), students are graded on these seven character traits.  A student-teacher conference could include a discussion of how to beef up self-discipline or optimism skills.  I was intrigued at the thought of making good character as much of a discussion with our kids as their grades and test scores.  I think as parents we need to be more intentional about teaching our kids about character and helping them see both their strengths and the areas they need to work on.  I don’t envision giving my boys a character report card, but I definitely want to open the lines of communication and keep this handy list of seven traits nearby!  I’ve printed out the list in a large, bold font, and we’ll use each trait as a dinner table discussion starter.  What does it look like when someone is good at delaying gratification?  How do self-disciplined people approach homework?  I can think of a whole range of questions I’m certain my children will not want to discuss, but we’ll do it any way.

According to Tough, conscientiousness (a boring-sounding trait) is the characteristic that best predicts success in all parts of life (work place, relationships, health).  He talks about words used to describe conscientious people:  hard working, orderly, reliable, respectful of social norms, and high self-control.    The most important descriptor, according to Tough?  Self-control.   Kids who are conscientious grow into adults who “do well without material incentives, have better grades in high school and college, commit fewer crimes, stay married longer, and live longer.”    Seems like a good character trait to work on developing!

Can Character be Changed?

But how do we help develop conscientiousness in a kid who is simply not described by the above-mentioned adjectives?  The secret, per Tough, is focusing on habits and teaching kids growth-mindset thinking (see Carol Dweck’s book, Mindset).  Kids need to learn that they can change themselves by changing their habits.  Not a self-disciplined person?  Make some rules for yourself to help develop new habits and turn yourself into a self-disciplined person.  When reading about the power of changed habits, I immediately thought of a good friend who over three years lost more than 100 pounds by changing her exercise and eating habits.  Is she a self-disciplined person?  She is now!   Our kids need to learn the same thing.  If they don’t have a particular character trait, they can develop it by practicing new habits.

“Habit and character are essentially the same thing.  Some kids have good habits and some kids have bad habits.  Kids understand it when you put it that way, because they know that habits might be hard to change, but they’re not impossible to change.”

-Angela Duckworth (quoted in How Children Succeed)

Doomed to Fail?

Even in the bleak landscape of extreme poverty, Tough shows us that a teenager who appears to be on a path toward failure can be helped.  He tells some inspirational stories of kids who have lifted themselves from the depths of poverty onto a path towards success.   What is needed, according to Tough, is just a single mentor who can show them that hard work and dedication can help them to achieve their goals.  Tough describes several successful programs that are doing just that – taking kids from the worst of backgrounds and helping them develop the tools and skills needed to be successful in college and the workplace.  I highly recommend anyone who works with teens (at risk, poor, affluent, or otherwise) to read Tough’s book and learn about how these programs have been successful.

I was inspired by Tough’s statement that, “..adolescence can be a time for a different kind of turning point, the profoundest sort of transformation:  the moment when a young person manages to turn herself away from near-certain failure and begins to steer a course toward success.”

Read the Book

Tough covers so much in this book, and I won’t spoil it for you by including everything I learned, but I will add that he has a lot to say about the influence of family and the importance of parental nurturing.   He also talks a lot about grit, an important character strength.   He describes the right way to set goals, which involves not being overly optimistic or pessimistic but instead using “mental contrasting” to see both the positive outcome and the obstacles that need to be overcome.   I loved Tough’s narrative about the chess team and the lessons the kids learned from their failures, from going over mistakes and getting to the bottom of why they made them.    I wanted to take up chess immediately and make my kids join the school chess team, but only if they have a coach like the one Tough describes.

Read How Children Succeed.  You won’t regret it.  And you may be inspired, like I was, to work on some of your own character traits while you’re helping your kids develop theirs.

SevenCharacterTraits (PDF for you to print out for dinner table discussions!)

How Children Succeed, Paul Tough

Character Strengths and Virtues:  A Handbook for Classification

School of Hard Knocks, New York Times Magazine Sunday Book Review, by Anne Murphy Paul

KIPP

Raising Happiness

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Way Too Much of a Good Thing

Written by Audrey Monke for Gold Arrow Camp

Anyone who’s been reading my blog knows that I’m a big proponent of getting kids “unplugged.”  I love that they get two weeks of tech free time to focus on face-to-face relationships while they’re at camp.   Unfortunately, I think many of them fall back into their same tech habits, and those of their parents, when they return home.    Now I want to figure out how all of us — adults and kids — can learn how to use our technology optimally.  How can we have our technology use contribute positively to our lives and not let it continue sucking our minutes, hours, and days from the people we love?

Have you  watched what happens at the end of the school day?   Regardless of their age,  kids get released from class and immediately pull out their electronic devices.   Many immediately start texting.   As the kids pour out of my children’s elementary school, many of them pull out iPads and smart phones, fire them up, and start staring at their screens.  Others stick in their head phones, avoiding interaction with the outside world.

Where are these kids getting this alarming focus on their tech gadgets?  From us.  That’s right.  As with all the other habits we pass on to our kids, I believe we are passing along a technology addiction of epic proportions to our children.   And I think researchers have only scratched the surface of the negative impact our out-of-control technology use is having on all of us.

Recently, I’ve been thinking about how my technology use has impacted my life.  In many ways, my life has improved due to new technology.  I have more flexibility to work from home and on my own schedule, since emails have replaced the many phone calls and messages from yesteryear.  I have reconnected with long-lost childhood friends through Facebook.  I can relax with a nice game of Words with Friends on the couch.   I can Facetime with my daughter at college.  I can email my mom and dad some recent photos of their grandkids.  I can create gift calendars and photo books on Shutterfly.   I can see how my friends have rated a particular book on Goodreads before I purchase it.   And I can read articles on topics that interest me.  I love all this information at my fingertips!

However, I think my technology use has a dark side, a negative impact that I’m feeling more and more lately.   I suspect others feel the same way, and research has shown that, in fact, our technology use does have a negative impact — on our sleep, on our relationships, on our mental health, and even on the education college students are getting.    I often plan to “just quickly check my emails” after I get my kids to bed, only to still be at my computer two hours later.  I read less.  I take longer to get through my “to do” list because I get easily side-tracked by something to look at or read online.    I watch TV less.  On the surface, that sounds like a good thing, but I have fond memories of laughing at Seinfeld episodes with my husband in our early married years.  Watching TV together  is now a rare occurrence.   In fact, pretty much the only TV viewing I do is while folding laundry.  We both spend a lot of our evenings trying to keep up with a relentless flood of email communication.

According to my nine and eleven year olds, “all” the kids at their school have smart phones.   I know some parents think it’s great for kids to learn to use technology at an early age, but I don’t think third graders are ready for smart phones.   If adults are having this much trouble trying to balance our tech use, how can we expect young children to figure it out?   I think we’re on the strict side in our family, but our boys are allowed 30 minutes on their computer each day (it’s set up so it logs them out).  We allow TV and iPods on the weekend only.  For now, it’s working for us.  Our older kids make their own rules and have proven to be responsible about not over-using their electronics.  They’re better at it than I am.

For myself, I’m making some new rules and am hopeful that this structure will help me get my tech-use to an optimal level:

(1)  At night, plug my phone in and charge it far from where I sleep.

(2)  Check emails no more than three times per day.

(3)  Make Sundays an email and Facebook-free day.

(4)  Check emails on my computer, not my phone, unless there’s something I’m waiting on specifically and need to get to before I’m by my computer.

(5)  No computer use between 5:00-8:30 pm unless I’m doing something related to my kids’ homework.

(6)  Turn off my computer by 10pm nightly.

My hope is that by establishing some new habits of my own that model technology-use moderation, my kids will learn good tech habits, too.

I’ve been reading a lot on this topic (as you’ll see from the list of articles below).   If you don’t have time to click on all the links, I’ve put a quote from each.    If you come across more articles or books on the topic of tech use,  please forward them to me!   I’d really love to hear your thoughts on how you’re balancing your family’s tech use (yours and your kids)!  What rules do you have for your kids?  What about for yourself?  Comment here or send me an email.

Articles on Impact of Technology Use

How your Cell Phone Hurts Your Relationships, By Helen Lee Lin, Scientific American (September 4, 2012) Amazingly, they found that simply having a phone nearby, without even checking it, can be detrimental to our attempts at interpersonal connection.

Can College Students Resist the Lure of Facebook and Twitter during Class? By Barbara J. King, NPR (August 16, 2012) As a culture, we have to fight the seductive appeal of constant connection via our technology, which fragments our attention and interrupts the joy of full immersion in thinking, problem-solving, and questioning.

The Flight from Conversation, By Sherry Turkle, NY Times (April 21, 2012) We’ve become accustomed to a new way of being “alone together.” Technology-enabled, we are able to be with one another, and also elsewhere, connected to wherever we want to be.

Death of Conversation, By Simon Jenkins, The Guardian (April 26, 2012) Psychologists have identified this as “fear of conversation”. People wear headphones as “conversational avoidance devices”. The internet connects us to the entire world, but it is a world bespoke, edited, deleted, sanitised.

Heavy Technology Use Linked to Fatigue, Stress, and Depression in Young Adults, By David Volpi, Huffington Post (8/2/2012) “I tend to think that the relationship between technology and stress, sleep disorders and depression has more to do with the overuse of technology in our society, especially among young people. If you’re a parent like I am, than you know firsthand how difficult it can be to get children to turn off the computer or put down their phone and stop texting so you can, just maybe, have a real conversation.”

Is Facebook Stunting Your Child’s Growth?  By Clifford Nass, Pacific Standard (May/June, 2012) “Tween girls who are heavy users of online social interaction feel less normal (as measured by their agreement or disagreement with statements like “I often feel rejected by people my age”) than girls who use online social media less frequently.”

How to Tell if You’re Addicted to Technology By Clara Moskowitz, LiveScience (2008) “Technology can become more than a passing problem and more like an addiction,” he told LiveScience. He listed some danger signs: “You become irritable when you can’t use it. The Internet goes down and you lose your mind. You start to hide your use.”

Why We’re all Addicted to Texts and Twitter, By Susan Weinschenk, Ph.D., Psychology Today (9/11/2012)”Do you ever feel like you are addicted to email or twitter or texting? Do you find it impossible to ignore your email if you see that there are messages in your inbox? Do you think that if you could ignore your incoming email or messages you might actually be able to get something done at work? You are right!”

Have Smartphones Killed Boredom (and is that good)? By Doug Gross, CNN (September 26, 2012)
…by filling almost every second of down time by peering at our phones we are missing out on the creative and potentially rewarding ways we’ve dealt with boredom in days past.

Your Brain on Computers, a New York Times series: Articles in this series (listed below) examine how a deluge of data can affect the way people think and behave.

•  Growing Up Digital, Wired for Distraction By Matt Richtel The constant stream of stimuli offered by new technology poses a profound new challenge to focusing and learning.

•  Digital Devices Deprive Brain of Needed Downtime By MATT RICHTEL Time without digital input can allow people to learn better or come up with new ideas.

•  Outdoors and Out of Reach, Studying the Brain By MATT RICHTEL Five scientists spent a week in the wilderness to understand how heavy use of technology changes how we think and behave.

•  The Risks of Parenting While Plugged In By JULIE SCELFO Parents’ use of smartphones and laptops — and its effect on their children — is becoming a source of concern to researchers.

•  Attached to Technology and Paying a Price By MATT RICHTEL Scientists say our ability to focus is being undermined by bursts of information from e-mail and other interruptions.

•  An Ugly Toll of Technology: Impatience and Forgetfulness By TARA PARKER-POPE “We’re paying a price in terms of our cognitive life because of this virtual lifestyle,” one expert says.

•  More Americans Sense a Downside to an Always Plugged-In Existence By MARJORIE CONNELLY Polls show that a number of Americans, particularly younger ones, are feeling negative effects from heavy computer and smartphone use.

Parking the Helicopter

As parents of this generation, we have been told that great parenting means being super-involved with our children and always being in constant communication with them. We give them cell phones as soon as we feel they are ready to have a bit of independence, so that we can be assured that they will call us the minute they need us. There are many benefits to this parenting style. We know our kids well and have developed close family relationships.
We also know each of their homework assignments (and assist with a few of them), the drills they did at soccer practice (because we either coached their team or stayed and watched), and what they ate for snack at school. The downside to our “helicopter” parenting, though, is it makes it difficult for our children to develop their independence, problem-solving, and decision-making skills.

Hooray for camp! Without a cell phone (or their parent next to them) to immediately turn to when they are faced with a decision, campers learn to use other resources – including their own great minds. Without us watching them and being a reminder of what they’ve been scared of in the past, they challenge themselves and try something new. The confidence that results from their accomplishments and independence can be life-changing, and the best thing we hear from our campers and parents is that camp truly makes their life better. According to former camper and counselor, Renee “Zippy” Tucknott, “Gold Arrow Camp taught me early in life that I can survive in the world without my parents making my decisions, and I am able to make my own decisions and choices that will impact my life. When I got to college, I experienced some of the same decisions and choices and already knew I could survive on my own.”

 As technology has provided us with the ever-increasing ability to be in touch – immediately – with everyone, it has also given the children and young adults of this generation a crutch which we (those of us in our late 30’s and up) did not have. When faced with a decision or problem with a friend, we had to rely on ourselves first and later discuss it with our parents. Now, kids are getting accustomed to calling their parents before attempting to solve the challenge on their own. At Gold Arrow Camp, we have a great support network of staff to help our campers work through challenges, fears, and problems that may come up. They never feel “alone,” but they feel independent from their parents, and a lot of pride comes from that independence.

Four Reasons for Two Weeks of Camp

Written by Audrey Monke, Gold Arrow Camp

“Do you have a one week session?” is one of the questions we often get asked by parents who are new to our program.  The question is usually preceded or followed by the comment,  “Two weeks is too long for my child.”

I thought it would be helpful to outline for new parents why Gold Arrow Camp has a two-week session length as our primary camp offering.   Although we also offer one-week specialty camp options at the beginning and end of the summer, Gold Arrow Camp’s core program is a two-week session, and that is the length of time the majority of our campers attend camp.   We also have campers who are “Monthers,” who attend four weeks of camp by combining two two-week sessions.

There are many benefits to camp, regardless of length of stay, as per the American Camp Association study.  So, I urge you to find a camp that fits your family’s needs and schedule, even if Gold Arrow is not the best fit for you.

Our program, up until the 1970s, was a month-long program.  Many traditional, East Coast camps still offer only one seven or eight-week session.   To people in the West, this sounds crazy, as most programs on our side of the country are one-week in length.   However, families who have been part of Gold Arrow and other traditional camp programs understand the benefits of a longer camp stay.

Many traditional camps in California have started offering one-week programs, because that’s what many parents think they want for their child.  Fortunately, our camp families have kept our two-week sessions consistently full, so we will continue to offer what we consider the best length for our program.

Why does Gold Arrow Camp have two-week sessions?

Here are four reasons:

1.  Community and Friendship Building

2.  Breadth and Depth of Activities

3.  Social Skill Development

4.  Independence and Confidence Building

Community and Friendship Building

Eli had the greatest summer camp experience.  He knew no one going to camp and come home with a host of new friends.  He had a huge smile on his face when we greeted him and it lasted for a long time.  He was pushed to achieve and he was proud of himself for achieving his goals. -Mr. & Mrs. Whitney Liebow

My children lead busy lives during the school year with various teams and enrichment programs.  Going to Gold Arrow Camp allows them to unwind and gain a new perspective on friendship, goals and life.  From my perspective, GAC is summer the way it is supposed to be for kids.  Thank you!! -Mrs. Kimberly Haulk

While a lot of fun happens during even just one day of camp, spending more time connecting and building bonds with counselors, cabin mates, and other campers is one of the benefits of a two-week stay.

The first week of the session, there is an adjustment period for the first few days, when campers are getting settled and getting to know one another, the schedule, and the activities.  By the middle of the first week, campers feel settled and comfortable at camp, and relationships have the opportunity to start getting deeper.  Friendships, while they can definitely be formed in one week, have a better chance to grow stronger and deeper with more connection time.

Because all of the campers in the cabin group are at camp for the same length of time (two weeks), there are no departures and arrivals in the middle of the session to disrupt the group’s cohesiveness and the bonds that have developed.  Everyone arrives together and departs together, with the exception of our Monther campers, who stay on for another session after their first two-weeks end.

Breadth and Depth of Activities

Gold Arrow Camp is a great summer camp experience. Our son has gone to GAC for 4 years now and every year he sees old friends, makes new ones, tries new things, compares his skills at the activities from the current year to past summers, can be independent and responsible for himself and his belongings, and gets to enjoy the beautiful camp setting away from the heat in Phoenix. He is already looking forward to next summer when he will receive his 5-year blanket. -Mr. & Mrs. Michael Nord

We take advantage of our location on Huntington Lake, in the heart of the Sierra National Forest, by teaching campers a large variety of water and land-based recreational activities.  Many of our activities require extensive time and instruction. Sailing, as an example, is an activity that begins with a 2 ½ hour group lesson, and can be followed up by many additional lessons as campers opt for more sailing during Free Time.  Without adequate time, it would be impossible for campers to even get to all of the activities we offer, let alone build skills in them.   We want our campers to get exposure to all of what is offered at camp, and have the opportunity to pursue activities they are passionate about.

During their two weeks at Gold Arrow, campers have the opportunity to learn to sail, ride a horse, shoot a rifle, get up on water skiis, and participate in a myriad of other activities.   Many of these sports require time and practice to master.  For first-time campers, two weeks is just enough time to expose them to all of the different activities and start practicing and improving skills.  Returning campers continue to build upon and develop new skills, even after five or six years at our program.  The depth of instruction offered, the opportunity to improve recreational skills, and the ability to earn different patches and certifications all distinguish Gold Arrow Camp’s program.

We have two outpost programs, away from our main camp, that take up a portion of the two-week session.  We have a water sports outpost camp on an island on Shaver Lake where campers enjoy one or two nights camping on the beach.  At Shaver Island, campers spend their days on the lake improving their skills in waterskiing, wakeboarding, and kneeboarding.  While these sports are also done at our main camp on Huntington Lake, their stay at Shaver allows our two-week campers time to really improve their skills with a lot of “behind the boat” time.  Our other outpost program is backpacking.  All campers go on a one-night overnight backpacking trip and get to experience outdoor cooking, sleeping under the stars, and living in nature.

There are some activities that we wait to do until the second week of camp, when campers are feeling connected and more comfortable taking risks.  At the end of the second week of camp, we have our dance, and several all-day, sign up trips.  Campers can opt to spend the day sailing across Huntington Lake, going on a long horse trail ride, climbing challenging terrain on a rock climbing trip, and more.

Honestly, even two weeks seems short to us.  We barely get campers to all of our activities, and it’s time for them to go home!

Social Skills Development

Gold Arrow Camp added a new dimension to our daughter’s summer.  She was able participate in sports and activities she had not done before; further develop her social skills by meeting new people and being involved with her cabin mates a large part of each day; and enjoy free time in a beautiful setting free of electronics. -Mr. & Mrs. Richard Heard

Kids benefit from experiences living and working in groups regardless of the length of time.  However, I believe that allowing a group to really bond and connect also allows kids to grow their communication, teamwork, and conflict resolution skills more than when they are in a shorter-term program.

Independence and Confidence Building

“Both girls came home SO happy!  Melissa came home today, Jesse last week.  Melissa had gone to camp knowing no one, and upon her return, she had to finish BIG hugs good-bye with friends before she’d get in the car to go home.  On our drive home, she went a mile a minute with stories about her 2 weeks at GAC, and when she got home, she burst into tears, saying she missed camp, her friends, and that she wished she could live at camp all year round!  At that point we told her she could go back next year for 4 weeks, and she became overjoyed with excitement, and wanted us to sign her up for 2012 right then and there.  Jessica ‘Jess’, also had an amazing experience.  She came home last Saturday, after 1 week, as she was a Nugget.  She, too wants to go back next year, this time for ‘either 2… maybe 4 weeks.’  Considering she’s only 7, we are amazed.  Both girls look like they grew 2 inches each while away, but it’s really an extra gained confidence where they’re walking taller and prouder with themselves.  We are SO thrilled that we found Gold Arrow Camp, a camp their second cousin went to almost 20 years ago.  As the famous vanilla tree has been rooted at GAC for years and years, we look forward to our girls being rooted there for years and years to come, too.  Thanks for such a positive, growing, and out of this world experience!” -Melissa Wald

As a multi-generational Gold Arrow Family, nothing beats your child immersed high-up in the Sierra Nevada for total fun and adventure. Every day brings a sublime surprise. They return with confident Sierra Nevada Mountain swagger that is part-and-parcel with a positive can-do attitude.  -Mr. Michael Bonderer

GAC gave our daughter the freedom to make choices, and the support to make good ones.

Our daughter went from not being able to sleep overnight at friends houses to spending three weeks at GAC.  GAC provided our daughter with the confidence of knowing that she can accomplish anything that she sets her mind to complete. -Mr. & Mrs. Ken Reichman

For many kids, their stay at camp is the first time that they have ever been away from their parents at all.   Some have attended sleep-overs, weekend scout camps, or week-long school programs, but for many campers, their first stay at Gold Arrow is the longest they’ve been away from their parents.  We know this, and our counselors are trained to help first-time campers get adjusted to being away and learn to cope with feelings of missing their parents.

Campers feel a great sense of pride in themselves after “being on their own,” and having fun, without mom or dad nearby.   While two weeks seem slow to parents, especially during their first camp experience, the days fly by at Camp.

“Two weeks was not enough for our son….now he’s a MONTHER!” -Mr. & Mrs. Chris Pedersen