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Guest Opinion

Summer camp is hotter than ever


We’re all experiencing the effects of these difficult, post-pandemic times. Especially young people. They are navigating post-lockdown life with the intense pressures of screen-based friendships, self-esteem in the volatile hands of social media, academic demands, and more.

Many have found a great way to unplug and decompress at summer camp. This year has seen unprecedented numbers of campers enrolling in summer camp, as parents are recognizing the need to pry their kids off their screens and regain their social skills.

Many high school and college students have found a similar reprieve from the weight of worldly cares by working at summer camp, too.

In my new favorite book “The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting up a Generation for Failure,” authors/researchers Greg Lukanoff and Jonathan Haidt bring to light the unintended consequences of how raising children has evolved in the past decade.

• Fragility: What doesn’t kill you makes you… weaker? Wasn’t it “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger?” Young people have been taught and encouraged of late to be risk-averse. Attending or working at summer camp can be super-fun and super-challenging. Research spearheaded by the American Camp Association is showing that young people attending or working at camp come out stronger and more resilient.

• Emotional Reasoning: Always trust your feelings? We’ve all experienced negative, and even overwhelming emotions at times. To be emotionally healthy though, we need to learn how to manage these feelings — not let them rule our lives and logic. At summer camp, any given day can be an emotional rollercoaster. There will be winning and losing, disagreements with friends, fear of failure, and disappointments. It’s real life in a structured setting, preparing young people for the inevitable challenges that lie ahead of them.

• Us vs. Them: That life is a battle between good and evil people. Cancel culture has become normalized by what has transpired in the news, colleges, and the workplace, causing negativity and polarization. Meanwhile, there are huge commonalities of shared beliefs between all of us. While accepting differences in others can be difficult, good summer camps create a training ground to practice diversity, equity and inclusion.

It’s been a rough past few years, but a “COVID silver lining” is the that families are now recognizing the significant effects on their children of increased screen time/social media, isolation, anxiety, depression, prescription drugs, and over the top parental “safetyism.” Parents are actively seeking solutions, and they have found one in summer camp.

It’s the ultimate learning environment for young people to develop and practice the social skills essential for success in the 21st century.

Andy Pritikin is the owner/director or Liberty Lake Day Camp, and a partner at Everwood Day Camp and Camp Southwoods. He’s the past president of the American Camp Association, NY/NJ, and the host of the Day Camp Podcast.

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