By Audrey “Sunshine” Monke, Camp Director. Originally published at Sunshine Parenting.
While it’s easy to think of ways to teach our kids to do laundry or solve math problems, finding a way to instill important character traits isn’t as simple. The way we model traits we want our children to exhibit has a powerful influence on them, and some traits (kindness, gratitude, and generosity) they learn first and foremost from parents.
But there are other traits best learned through experiences outside the home and beyond the watchful (sometimes too watchful) eyes of parents. Camp experiences offer exactly the kind of experience away from home where children grow important character traits like independence, self-confidence, and grit.
“Looking back at my life, camp has been the most influential part of it. I can truly say camp is where I developed my independence, gained confidence, and learned what friendship truly means.”
Being hyper-involved and in constant communication with our children has become something modern parents brag about. But when do we start letting go and giving our kids a chance to feel independent? This has become much more challenging in an age where cell phones are always attached to our (and their) hips and tracking apps are ubiquitous. In fact, as parents today we tend to foster dependence even when we’re trying not to. Forgot their lunch? A friend says something mean? Stubbed their toe? We know right away and swoop in to help.
Whether the result of parenting trends or ultra-high levels of physical and digital connectedness, today’s children are much less independent than we were at the same age. I find it hard to resist editing my son’s paper to make it “just a little bit better” or jumping in to help make his lunch when he’s running late for school. Thirty years ago, we were babysitting infants at age 13. Today, some of us hire babysitters for our 13-year-olds!
Camp experiences offer the unique opportunity for kids to see how much they can do without us hovering nearby. They build their independence skills because they take more responsibility for themselves and their belongings, make their own decisions, and feel a sense of autonomy. For many kids, camp is the first opportunity they’ve had to experience these things.
“Camp has really helped me become more confident with who I am and has helped me try new things. Without camp, I would be too shy to go up to someone and introduce myself. Camp has had a giant impact on my personality, and without it I would be a completely different person.”
When we tell our kid she’s “great” at something, it’s easy for her to be wary of the praise. We parents are notorious for seeing our kids through rose-colored lenses and thinking they are the greatest at _______ (fill in the blank); our kids know intuitively that our assessment of them, however complimentary, is most likely not accurate or objective.
However, when another respected adult mentor – like a camp counselor! – recognizes a positive trait in our child and points it out, that can have a powerful impact. When someone outside the immediate family recognizes our child’s unique qualities and helps him or her address weaknesses, it can build real self-confidence.
“I love the encouragement that I got, both from counselors and campers, to try new things all the time. I love that the camp encourages you to do that. The camp atmosphere made me stand out and be unique, in ways that I would have been too embarrassed to try at home.”
“Grit” became the new buzzword in education and parenting circles thanks to Paul Tough’s best-selling book, How Children Succeed. Angela Duckworth further cemented the importance of grit, or resilience, in her popular TED talk: Grit, the Power of Passion and Perseverance, and her book, Grit. People with grit have “stick-to-itiveness,” persistence, and resilience, all of which help them work hard and push past difficulties and failures.
We all need some grit. But how do we teach grit to a distinctively non-gritty kid or young adult—one who quits when something gets challenging, who doesn’t want to try anything new or difficult, or who prefers playing endless video games to practicing piano, reading, or some other more useful-seeming skill?
As parents, it’s hard to create experiences that require our children to use grit, but at camp those experiences happen every day. While struggling to climb the rock wall or attempting to get up on water skis for the 12th time, our kids develop their grit muscles in a big way at camp. And, they likely wouldn’t try for as long or as hard if we parents were hovering nearby with our worried expressions. At camp, kids are encouraged to set goals, challenge themselves, and overcome failure again and again. And that develops their grit.
Interrupting the cycle of dependence can only happen when we as parents are willing to encourage our children to develop their independence, self-confidence, and grit, and, though it may seem counter-intuitive, that happens best when we’re not around.
In this competitive, self-focused era, learning to be part of a team is a valuable skill that is not often taught to children (or adults!). Kids participate on many sports teams, but often that experience does not end up being a lesson in teamwork. Instead, sports teams often become a competitive experience of trying to get the position or play time they want as an individual.
One reason for our focus on non-competitive programs is so that kids can learn new skills without feeling the pressure to win or be the best. We also want kids to learn to be part of a team (their cabin group) and be better team members. The experience of living with a group of diverse people in a cabin group is the first lesson in teamwork that campers learn. Campers learn to work together to keep their living area organized, do daily clean up, and get to where they need to be (meals, activities, etc.). They also learn to support and encourage each other and help each cabin member do their best at each activity.
During the first few days of camp, each of our cabin groups goes through a “Team Building” program led by our trained ropes course staff. During a variety of games and activities, the campers learn to work together to accomplish tasks that they can only perform as a group. They learn about listening, leadership, and how to work through conflicts. The communication skills they learn at Team Building are used throughout camp. Lessons like taking turns when talking, sharing leadership, and planning before doing are all teamwork skills that campers can take home with them.
“No one can whistle a symphony. It takes a whole orchestra to play it.” -H.E. Luccock
By Alison “Bean” Moeschberger
The program at Gold Arrow has been designed to provide campers with a variety of experiences and opportunities while they are at camp. Rather than focusing on skill progression in one area, we feel it is important for MAN-C23-2458campers to be introduced to activities they may not have chosen to do on their own. We strive to create a supportive and encouraging environment in which campers feel comfortable pushing their own boundaries and can learn about themselves as they conquer fears, face challenges, and live in community with others.
Cabin groups are scheduled to participate in activities together for two of the three activity periods each day. During cabin activities, the Group Counselor plays a key role in fostering personal growth in campers. These specialized counselors attend activities with the cabin group and help campers set personal and group goals and hold the group accountable for reaching their goals and encouraging others. Participating in activities as a cabin group allows campers to take risks and push themselves in a safe, supportive environment. Through watching cabin mates overcome fears and accept new challenges, campers learn resilience and empathy. Everyone’s role in the group is necessary, and the Group Counselor serves to build and enhance the supportive community so that the cabin group feels like a family.
The third activity period of the day, called “Free Time,” gives campers an opportunity to sign up for activities as individuals. Campers can try special activities that are only offered during this period or return to an activity they enjoyed with their cabin group.
You can find out more information on activities offered at Gold Arrow Camp here.
Written by Audrey Monke for Gold Arrow Camp
When my third daughter was born thirteen years ago, the warnings started coming in. “Girls are easier than boys when they’re little, but just WAIT until they’re teenagers! They’re SO hard.”
I heard horror stories about yelling, irrational behavior, eating disorders, anxiety, depression, and many other issues some parents faced with their teenage daughters. In preparation for the years to come (and to help our camp parents who already had teenage daughters), I attended talks on the topic and read many books about adolescence, including:
Queen Bees & Wannabes (Rosalind Wiseman), Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls (Mary Pipher, Ph.D.),
Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls (Rachel Simmons),
The Romance of Risk: Why Teenagers do the Things They do (Lynn Ponton, M.D.), and
The Price of Privilege: How Parental Pressure and Material Advantage are Creating a Generation of Disconnected and Unhappy Kids (Madeline Levine, Ph.D.).
Just reading the titles of these books is enough to send shivers of fear up the spine of any parent of a soon-to-be teenager. But knowledge is power, and I wanted to learn different opinions and ideas on the topic of adolescence.
In the end, I didn’t get through every page of those books, but I learned some useful tidbits of information. I ended up parenting my girls the way that felt right to me, which was building a close, nurturing relationship. I was fortunate to have a great role model in my own mother, who nurtured me through childhood while keeping life fun, so it came naturally to me to smother my girls with affection and spend a lot of time talking with them. They get hugs every day and are tucked in every night (sometimes they have to tuck me in now, but it still counts!).
As of last week, I am now the mother of three teenage daughters (ages 13, 16, & 17). I LOVE HAVING TEENAGE DAUGHTERS. And I hope you understand that those capital letters mean I really, really love this time with them. I think other moms of teenage daughters must love it, too. I just haven’t read about much of the good stuff, so I thought I would share with you what I love about having teenage daughters. And hopefully those of you with younger daughters will be inspired to look forward to, and not fear, the teen years.
I like the way our relationship has evolved over the years. When they were younger, I was in charge, providing the structure to their days and rules to follow. It was a lot of work. Now, we’re in more of a democratic state, where they understand that we need their help to keep our home functioning. There’s not a strict bedtime, but each of them knows how important it is to get a good night’s sleep (I’ve drilled the brain research into them!). So, they get themselves to bed at a decent hour. They get themselves up each morning, pack their own lunches, and, in the case of the two older ones, drive themselves to school.
These days, a T.V. show or podcast that I would never have allowed them to watch or listen to a few years ago becomes an opportunity to discuss values and difficult issues. We talk about things that we wouldn’t have discussed when they were younger. They know my opinions, but they also know that they have the freedom to form their own. (Side note: Things we talked about when they were very young, like how disgusting and unhealthy smoking is, really sunk in. Apparently, kids really listen to you before they turn ten, so get a lot of good discussions in early!)
They share stories about their peers and what they are experiencing. I don’t freak out when they share a story about something disturbing that they saw or heard. Usually, it’s something similar to what I saw or heard when I was their age. We talk about it.
My teenage daughters do not yell at me or treat me disrespectfully. They willingly do chores and offer to give me extra help. They thank me for making dinner. They get along well with each other and have fun together. Yes, they get in bad moods sometimes, and so do I. We’ve talked about coping strategies. I’ve shared what helps me, and they’ve learned what works for them. I’ve always told them it’s normal for girls to have mood swings, so they don’t feel crazy when it happens.
I wish I could tell you the reasons why my teenage daughters are the way they are. The younger ones say they watched their older sister(s).
Last week, I interviewed my oldest daughter, who will turn eighteen in January. I asked her why she turned out so well and didn’t fit some of the stereotypes of teenage girls. She had these nuggets of wisdom to share:
“Kids turn out the way parents expect them to. If you’re positive about your kids and treat them with respect, they’ll fulfill your expectations. If you expect them to be rude and disrespectful, then they’ll fulfill that, too.”
“Movies and T.V. shows set a really bad example of how kids treat parents, so not letting us watch too much when we were little was good. You also need to have a good example at home in your family.”
“Being around nice teenagers at camp, who were good role models, helped, too.”
“You need to find friends who are nice to their parents.”
“Teenage is an awkward phase for parents and kids. It’s better when it’s a relationship based on mutual respect and more of an adult-like relationship.”
So, there you go. Words of wisdom from a teenage daughter who has been pleasant to live with throughout her teenage years and is incredibly responsible.
My most recent teenager (the one who turned thirteen last week) had this wisdom to share when I asked her what parents of younger kids should do to make sure their girls are nice as teenagers:
My Newest Teen and Me
“Girls whose parents are nice are nice.”
“You can’t let the talking back slide when they’re little.”
“Don’t give them everything they want.”
“Teach them to be grateful.”
If you have a teenage daughter and you’re struggling in any area, I hope you’ll take the time to reconnect and have fun together. And, if you have a younger daughter, I hope you’ll listen to the words of wisdom shared by my girls. I think they know what they’re talking about. I learn from them every day and am so grateful to have three teenage daughters.