Campfire Notes

Friendship, The Gold Of Childhood

Friendship, The Gold Of Childhood

“Friends are everything. They are always there if you have a problem or if you get hurt, they can always help you up.”

– Patricio, Camper, Age 8

The commonly accepted trajectory of do well in school -> get into a good college -> make a lot of money -> flourish in life is not exactly accurate. You only have to know one unhappy wealthy person to know that’s not the path that will lead to happiness or fulfillment.

What is a more accurate trajectory? good interpersonal (social) skills -> positive relationships -> flourish in life.

Michael Thompson’s statement, “Friendship is the gold of childhood,” stuck with me long after I attended his conference session on the social lives of children. Friendship is not just the gold of childhood, but also of life. In my research for my Master’s degree in Psychology, I looked closely at studies related to friendship, social skills, and well-being. What I found was not surprising. For children, and adults as well, positive relationships are the best predictor of overall happiness and well-being. As parents, teachers, and counselors, we should be putting a primary emphasis on helping kids develop the social skills they need to make and keep friends.

Unfortunately, our culture is not supporting the development of healthy, solid friendships between kids. Friendship is more important than any academic subject or athletic skill, and yet the way our kids spend their time does not reflect this importance. For many kids, there simply isn’t time in their lives for developing strong, close friendships.

What are our kids learning about friendship in this Instagram, Snapchat, and texting era of “friends?” Many boast hundreds, even thousands, of “friends” and “likes” on photos. Yet some of those same kids don’t have one single person in their lives that meets the criteria of a true and trusted friend. Face-to-face social skills, such as being able to read non-verbal cues, are learned through practice. If communication is primarily through media, then those skills are not being honed.

Another cultural factor that is counter-productive to the development of solid friendships is the constant, high-stakes competition our children are constantly in with their peers. Who’s ranked higher at school? Who made the “A” team? Who’s more popular? Often, instead of being truly supportive and encouraging of each other, kids want their peers to fail.

Making friends, and being a good friend, doesn’t come naturally to all people. And, coupled with the crazy culture we’re in, it’s no surprise that many kids are struggling to form strong friendships.

Friends are the reason campers and counselors return to Gold Arrow Camp year after year. “Make Friends” is one of the three main goals we chant at the opening of camp each session. At camp, there is time for friendship — precious, relaxing time to get to know each other, spend time making memories, and communicating face-to-face. Our whole camp community is built around inclusion, respect, and kindness. There is no competition at camp, no “A” team or “popular” group. Just kids having fun together and learning to live and play with each other, work out disagreements, and become better friends to each other.

“A friend is someone you’re not afraid to be yourself with.”

– Hannah, Camper, Age 14

Counselors are trained to help kids connect from the moment they get on the bus until the last good bye. Long talks at meals, around the campfire, and under the stars in sleeping bags are uninterrupted by cell phones and other technological distractions. Campers can’t “tune out” by putting earphones in. They stay engaged with each other and learn to connect. Counselors gently coach campers who need to develop social skills in areas such as listening skills, empathy, sharing, flexibility, initiating conversations, and understanding non-verbal cues. They encourage campers to be intentional about being good friends to each other and observant about what they appreciate about their friends.

On the final day of camp, our campers receive their session yearbooks, which include a space for them to share contact information with each other. We hope that campers use this tool to stay in contact throughout the year.

“Friends are awesome, because they stand up for you, and they care for you.”

– Joey, Camper, Age 11

At one final campfire gathering last summer, the Randy Newman song, “You’ve Got a Friend in Me,” came on during the slide show. A group of four twelve-year-old boys sitting on the bench in front of me spontaneously put their arms around each other and started swaying back and forth, singing along to the song. I will never forget that vivid picture of the power of camp friendships.

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Too Much Screen Time? Camp Can Help!

Too Much Screen Time? Camp Can Help!

By Audrey “Sunshine” Monke, originally published at Sunshine Parenting.

I’ve learned to face my fears, I’ve tried new things, and I have learned that you don’t always need to have your phone or video games.

-Kimberly, Camper

Children between eight and ten years old currently spend nearly eight hours a day on media. Adolescents average nearly eleven hours per day, seven days a week, on screens. The negative impact of this digital lifestyle is evident in kids’ expanding waistlines as well as their growing lack of interest in being outdoors. Now there’s an additional worry about the impact of our kids’ excessive screen use: anxiety.

In a  New York Times article—Why Are More American Teenagers Than Ever Suffering From Severe Anxiety?Benoit Denizet-Lewis writes, “Anxious kids certainly existed before Instagram, but many of the parents I spoke to worried that their kids’ digital habits—round-the-clock responding to texts, posting to social media, obsessively following the filtered exploits of peers—were partly to blame for their children’s struggles. To my surprise, anxious teenagers tended to agree.”

Anxiety is on the rise—among children, teens, and adults—and our screen time is exacerbating the issue. The problem is not just with teens. Adults are modeling this uber-connected life and experiencing a similar rise in anxiety. Ubiquitous screens are all that this anxious generation has ever experienced, and as parents we can feel powerless to stop devices from overtaking our family’s lives.

Whether sending or receiving SnapChat messages, watching YouTube videos, scrolling on Instagram, playing video games, or taking 100 selfies to find the best angle, our children are inundated with digital input while also feeling pressure to post the “right” things.  The attraction of media is hard to resist, so most of us (including parents) simply succumb to having the near constant presence of our electronics.

Many of us find it difficult to drag ourselves away from our laptops and smartphones, and often our schedules and lifestyles don’t allow for adequate time to just be outside and enjoy our natural surroundings.  Richard Louv coined the term “Nature Deficit Disorder” in his book Last Child in the Woods to describe the alarming trend of children spending less and less time outdoors.  Whether due to sensational media accounts of lost hikers that have fanned parental fears, or simply a lack of time in over-scheduled lives, children simply aren’t outside playing as much as they used to. Instead, they’re inside on their screens.

I don’t think anyone would debate that we all need to unplug more, but it’s very difficult to actually get kids off their screens, especially now that many schools require devices for course work, and most kids have their own smartphone by middle school.

Recently, I interviewed a mom who gave clear instructions before her twelve-year-old daughter’s birthday slumber party: devices would NOT be allowed. But this mom, unfortunately, is still the exception, not the rule. She lamented that when her kids go to other people’s houses, they complain that all the kids do is play on their devices the entire time. While we can get our kids to turn off and put away screens at home, it’s difficult to monitor them when they’re not at home. And, unfortunately, kids are drawn to homes where screens are not as limited.

While a few weeks at camp is not the only answer to all the screen and anxiety problems, camp experiences can be a great salve for our kids. Breathing fresh air, connecting face-to-face, and not worrying about “likes” and what they’re missing, kids relax and enjoy themselves. And they report feeling happier and less anxious.

Here are four ways summer camp can help with the parenting challenge of too much screen time:

  1. DETOX:
    Just being completely unplugged for a few weeks is a new and refreshing experience for kids—a true digital detox. Because they’re having fun and staying engaged and entertained, they get over their screen addiction quickly. And, because it’s a “cold turkey” approach with no ambiguity (everyone’s following the same rules), campers don’t push back against being unplugged like they do at home.
  2. CHANGED PERSPECTIVE:
    By experiencing screen-free fun and friendships, many campers express a new desire to spend less time on their devices once they return home. Campers and staff have frequently reported examples of providing leadership in asking friends to participate in phone-free times.
  3. APPRECIATION FOR NATURE AND OUTDOOR RECREATION:
    While counting shooting stars, appreciating spectacular views from a hike, or smelling the smoke from their campfire, campers aren’t thinking about their TV, video games, and cell phones. Instead, they are experiencing nature and being truly present with others. Many discover new outdoor activities they enjoy, and they are inspired to spend more time outside and in the moment once they return home.
  4. BETTER FACE-TO-FACE FRIENDSHIP SKILLS:
    Social interactions can be difficult, and many kids choose to keep interactions safely behind a screen. At camp, while sharing stories around the campfire and spending quality face-to-face time with new and old friends, campers gain more confidence in their social skills and are more likely to pursue real, face-to-face friendships upon returning home.

Getting kids off their screens — and convincing kids how good it feels to be unplugged — can be a real challenge. Summer camp can help.

Over the summer, I interviewed kids about their camp experiences. The topic of being unplugged came up a lot and the kids had insightful words:

 

 

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