Why Send Your Kid to Camp

Going to take a slight detour on the Kids in Sports and Other Activities series to talk about camps and their value in the growth of children.

This one seems so easy for me and hard to keep brief. In this article I will give you my personal experience and my reasons ,from many years at camp,why it is good from your kid. Later the good part when I will let my child’s words tell you from a different perspective. Finally some practical advice.
I have spent 20 of the last 25 years at camp. All in my adult life. Growing up I had only a brief one week experience at church camp  in SW Oklahoma. I had no idea what I was getting into all those years ago driving that ’64 Comet to Starrucca, PA . I was there about 24 hours before I fell in love. The work was harder, the days longer and the friendships stronger than anything I could have ever imagined.
My time in the mountains at Island Lake Camp, owned by the Stoltz family, has presented me with some of the greatest challenges, friendships and memories in my time there as a counselor, athletic coordinator and director. It is an incredible environment for personal growth and being exposed to people from around the world. In all the years there we had our share of ups and downs all the while giving thousands of kids the time of thier lives. You learn quickly in the camp world to never say, “I have seen it all.” I thought I had experienced most of it until I went back to camp after a brief hiatus and took my 9 year old daughter with me to be full time camper.

I loved camp. I helped build the place and was there through years of growth and success. I never thought of anything but the positive. Suddenly I was faced with the question, “What if your daughter doesn’t like it?”.  Uhhh. Never thought anyone wouldn’t like it. Luckily for me and my daughter she walked into a supportive environment filled with counselors and staff whose full attention was making kids happy and safe. Most camps are like this.

Her first act there was to ditch me and eat with the counselors as all the other kids would arrive the next day. It was never in doubt the counselors were happy to see her and treated her like gold from minute one. That was a good sign we had hired the right staff. Most of our contact over the next 6 weeks involved her stopping by my office window with this conversation, “Hi Dad. Bye Dad.” That was all I needed to hear. If she didn’t need to talk to me, that was a good thing. It meant she was making friends, learning new things and she didn’t need me. More on that last point later.

NEXT Post in the Kids in Sports, Music and Other Activities series- The Power of One Leader.

One day I saw that her hands were taped up around the palm. I called her in and asked to see them. She showed me blisters that she had from working so hard at gymnastics and circus. She had taped them up because she didn’t want to miss out and kept going. This was the kid who would barely get outside and get active at home. Here she ran to activities, participated in everything and unplugged for 6 weeks. That’s right. No TV, cell phone or internet!  She even wrote back and forth (in pen and paper) to her grandparents and mother. Even a few to her aunts.

I knew it was good thing for her to be at camp. I had learned through the years and years of serving other families that camp was a good thing for kids, but to see your own daughter thriving in an that environment is beyond words. It also caused me to reflect on the positive aspects of the camp world and how I could relate to friends who had not had the same experiences as I had. Not everyone grew up going to camp, had worked as a counselor in college or had a family history of camp.

Here is my list boiled down from countless conversations and millions of interactions over the years:

  • They will have fun!
  • They will form friendships that will last a lifetime! They will talk to you about these relationships all year long.
  •  Your child will experience new things. Camps provide unique programs and environments.They will try different activities and be well outside of their comfort zones.
  • Your son or daughter will encounter something that makes them uncomfortable. Camps will make sure it is a safe environment and your child will face the outdoors, uncertainty of new friends, physical challenges, mental challenges and choices they have never had to make. Again, camps will provide a safe environment for these challenges.
  • They will be away from you! This one bothers a lot of parents. Your kids may experience a period of missing home and you and the dog and everything. That is a good thing that they miss you. Their growth during this time is crucial. They will sprout and do things they would never do with a parent hovering nearby. They won’t need your validation. This point if often harder on parents than the kids. The thought of them not needing you as much is hard. They still love you and will be excited to see you again.
  • They will be more independent.  You may experience this as being able to clean their room, going to bed without assistance or overall willingness to take care of basic daily needs. Don’t worry. They will still need your emotional support.
  • They will be better decision makers. They will need less adult help with many choices. You will also see them taking more accounting of their own actions
  • They will have been outside all summer (or part of one) and hopefully be healthier for it. At most camps they will not be allowed to sit in front of a TV or computer for any amount of time during a given day.
  • At many camps they will be exposed to counselors from different countries and possibly different cultures.
  • Many former campers claim that camp made their transition to college a piece of cake. They knew they could go home at some point and that they could  handle the emotions of being away from family and friends. They will also adapt to unique situations and quickly form friendships.
  • They will cry when they leave camp. That is a good thing. It shows that they cared that much. Relish that they worked that hard at something.
  • They will have fun!

The above list is of course not inclusive. I could write a book on it. Below is a list my daughter compiled of things that camp gives her. She included it in a thank you note to Matt, one of the owners of Island Lake, the day she found out she would be coming back next summer. Read the list 2 or 3 times.

Camp gives me:
– Shelter
– Bed
– Food
– Fun Summers
– Friends
– Smiles
– Activities
– A Great Time
– AWESOME Counselors
– Cool Bunkmates
– Safe Environment
– Nice Instructors
– Strength
– Skills
– Bravery
– Unbelievable Summers

This is a list of what camp gives me. I really love camp. Thank you very much. I’m excited for next year.

The list is very practical. The basics up top-Food, Shelter and a Bed. Some very predictable ones like AWESOME Counselors,Friends,etc. Bravery and Strength were a little surprising. She explained that she came home from camp stronger and the she had to be brave to be out in mountains and away from everything she knew. Safe Environment made me feel really good about all the great work that folks do at the camp. The fact that a 10 year old feels safe speaks volume of the staff. When kids feel safe they will explore and discover new things.

As a parent, you can look at that list and want it all for you child. Camp gives them these things. What an amazing opportunity for any kid. I get a little emotional every time I read that list. Not just thinking about my daughter’s time there. I think about the 1000’s of kids that we have given this opportunity. It is very powerful when you think of the influence we have had over the years.

Again, I could go on for days, but the list sort of stands on its own.

Camp is about people interacting with each other and having to figure out how to get along while having the best time of their lives. Next post will be titled The Power of One Leader and will be about a camp person who made the difference in countless lives and also fits into my series of Kids in Sport, Music and Other Activities series.

Some practical advice:

– Find a camp that is American Camp Association approved. This organization at least gives you a baseline of safety and fiscal responsibility. They conduct inspections on a routine basis.

– Look hard and find a camp that fits your needs. It is a big commitment. Do your homework.

-Ask other families about their experience. When a camp approaches you, ask to let your kids talk to other kids.

– Ask about the experience of the staff. Are there people who work in education? Where are the counselors from? How old are they? What training do they provide their staff?  What are their level of support for the staff?

– Check to see that your children will have clear channels to report concerns while at camp.

Have fun with this journey. Love to hear your thoughts as always. Will also take ideas on expanding this topic in the future.


Make a Donation Button


Kids in Sport, Music and Other Activities

Today’s comments by Jazamine Fenlator in her social media today are the perfect starting point for the set of articles on kids in sports, music and other activities. In this series I will present a few heroes that have made things better in recent years in some unusual ways and explore some ideas and practices we need to be looking at closely.  As always, discussion is welcome. If you can’t talk constructively, learn today.

So what are the qualities of an Olympic medal winner?  Research by Garret Kramer at Inner Sports and others on Olympic athletes has shown some common qualities. These follow not only Olympic winners but other top level athletes and other performers as well.  Among these that are very important for our young athletes are that they:

1. Love the ride. They understand that everything happening is part of the enjoyment and growth towards something greater. The championship is not in and alone the only gift.

2. There are rarely fixed on wins or losses. They are in control of their situation and learn daily. They take it for granted they have things to learn and sometimes a loss is part of the process.

There are more qualities but we will stick with these the above for now as they are qualities in the  environments of  top athletes as they mature. This has been shown by research of Olympic and stellar performers. I hope that we can look at how we are raising our young athletes now so that they are not only great competitors but are becoming better humans along the way and we are not thwarting their progress by simply focusing on wins and losses and how many times they get to play in a year.

Here is Ms. Fenlator. Enjoy and focus on some of the terminology.

“I have come to what I would can only describe as this overwhelming sense of peace and calmness less than 24 hours before my Olympic Debut. It’s a weird feeling, it’s a positive feeling, it’s a feeling I guess subconsciously I have been waiting almost my whole life for….

I am ready, I am strong, I am powerful, I am confident, I am resilient, I am fierce, I am a fighter, I am just one small part of Team USA, but more importantly through my actions on and off the bobsled track I want to represent the bigger picture. The picture that dreams can come alive no matter where you started; no matter the path you take to get there.

My coach, Todd Hays ……3 years ago proposed a question to the 3 Women’s Bobsled Pilots here in Sochi that he wanted us to ask ourselves on the start line at the Olympic Games: “Do I deserve to win…” With that question he explained that he wanted us to answer it with an undoubted YES! But that meaning of winning was knowing that we did absolutely everything we could, through trial, error, hard work, sacrifice, adaptation, change, perseverance, failures in order to get better and more importantly rise to the occasion in front of me holding my head high and confident.

I plan on laying it all out there, fighting for every ounce of a millisecond over the four runs and just like my mother, Suzie Fenlator has continuously taught me, I’m going to keep my eyes on the prize, soak it all in, and leave it all on the ice on the 18th and 19th of February 2014.”

Read it again. Let me know what hit for you and how it impacts you or your young ones as athletes. Look for how the thought process is different than what you might be seeing out there with youth sports. Looking forward to the banter.

Later this week we look at specialization, when to be crazy and other issues facing youth sports and other activities today.

Have fun



The Bully- Parents II and Adults

The focus of this series has been the behavior of adults due to the huge impact our behavior has on the kids that come into contact with us.  A lot of the literature coming out these days seems to focus on the behavior of the children as something separate from the actions of the adults in our society. There has been huge strides made in helping kids not to bully one another. For it to really take hold in our culture, there must a bigger effort by us. The adults. The ones making the rules with double standards that are kids notice and subtly mimic us to their peers.

Our kids watch us and learn how to act by the people around them. I find it frustrating for people to criticize our kids these days as they rudely treat employees of their local retailers like second class citizens. Even worse may be going after teachers and coaches who give time to our youngest and getting worse is the  the online behavior that goes after every easy moving target. Before we can expect better  behavior from our kids we have to take a look in the mirror.

During the early 2000’s  in schools and in the camping world we really went after the bullying behaviors of the kids. Boys were sent to alternative schools. Every word was acted upon by administrators. No more “boy will be boys”.   About 10 years ago there was a big push to stop the behaviors of girls such as exclusion tactics, rumor spreading and the subtle manipulation and call them what they were. No longer “girls being girls”. They were called bullies. I guess the natural progression would be to take it to the next step and call out the behavior of our adults.

No one is perfect and life can get frustrating. We still have to hold ourselves to the standards we lay down for our kids. Let’s start with the treatment of employees of places we frequent: Often times these folks cannot defend their position or risk losing their job over something that might not be there fault. It could be the waitress who is trying to get through school or the mom making extra money waiting tables. Your shrimp being overcooked is not her fault but she takes the brunt of the abuse. The adult then tries to get something free out of the deal and bullies and pushed until a manager has to get involved and give into the pressure.

Even better is when someone at the department store has positioned a product under the wrong sign or the wrong label was placed on an item. We have seen parents argue that they should get the product for a much reduced price and yell about “false advertising” and calling corporate. Several things about this one. It is dishonest to try and get something for less than you know it is supposed to be. Someone made a simple mistake and will probably have to make up the difference that you are taking. That someone may be feeding their kids on that money. It is not false advertising because someone made a simple mistake. False Advertisement in most cases has to do with misrepresenting the content and not the price. There would have to be some intent. Lastly the treatment of the employee is probably the worse. It shows the kids that once the person puts a company vest on they are now categorized and can be treated differently. What happens to kids at school when they categorize others and treat them with disrespect based those categories?

Online behavior is outrageous and the kids are watching. Systematic targeting of groups happens all the time. Just objectively look through your newsfeeds. One “People of Wal Mart” page has over 1,000,000 likes. Great.  You don’t have to like the way people dress. You don’t have to be nice to them. To go out of  your way to belittle them is a  different story. Your kids are watching and what happens to them when they seek out people to take pictures and of and put it online to belittle others?

Treating the people who spend time to educate and coach your kids with less than respect may be the most repugnant. Many are volunteers and have the best intentions for your kids. I will address this in more detail in the “Kids and their Activities” series coming out soon. Needless to say, if we treat them with aggressive behavior in front our kids, we show them once again that we can treat people in certain groups differently and once again we let them know it is okay to bully.

Seems like we could fill a book with this topic. The short of it. Mind your manners. Look around before you say something mean and see who is watching you. Your actions influence others.

Don’t be a bully this week.


Make a Donation Button


The Bully- Parents

When I was convinced to put some of my thoughts in to this format it was under the assumption that I would  do so in a non-political way along with trying  not to attack too many people. The idea is to stimulate thought and discussion. Well we may break form early and get a reaction out of this one.

Last week we talked about what we show our kids when we jump on celebrities that we do not like. This time I would like to tackle the recent practice of public humiliation that is being heaped on kids by parents using social media. We have seen everything from embarrassing messages recorded by the parent to public humiliation by having them stand on the corner confessing their sins to traffic. Here is a small list compiled by Charlotte Alter in the Time News Feed.

This is not an attempt to tell parents how to raise or discipline their children. It is an attempt to look at the consequences of these types of humiliating situations and what they do for both parties involved as well as bystanders in the process. While some may look at these measures as a last resort, others see this as simple acts of parents who lost control. Probably somewhere in between and we need to be sympathetic  to both sides of this.

Subjecting children to this type of discipline creates a situation where they are degraded openly by the people they trust most. Do they learn a lesson in most of these situations? Yes.  That the parent can be unpredictable (not always a bad thing) and wants to show the world how bad they(the child) were. This is in contrast to how most parents see this. They see this as a way to show the child the consequences of their actions. Two very different outcomes when we look a little closer.

Imagine for a second back in the days of old when public shaming was common practice. We see that as somewhat barbaric and if a school principal even proposed such a punishment they would be ridiculed and publicly prosecuted across the same media outlets that so quickly post these stories of parents doling out the same punishment as if they are some sort of interesting sideshow where the bad guys got what they deserved for once. Therein lies a big problem. The kids are made out to have committed some evil so bad that it needs to be purged publicly.

In reality they are just kids who made a few mistakes. Few are deserving of even a trial for a misdemeanor. Imagine those same parents if they showed disrespect at work or made errors and they were sent to the corner with a sign for all to read. A lawsuit would soon follow that one as we know.

Consequences are one thing but when they don’t fit the crime it can cause a very dangerous chain of events. Pull from the college ranks for an example. When fraternity members go through pledgship it is intended to promote unity, growth and teach life lessons. What happens often is someone does something a little harsh to one person. That person remembers it slightly different and adds to it the next time. One year it is waiting outside while the older members have a meeting. The next it is waiting outside in the cold without a jacket. Then waiting outside without a jacket while downing a bottle of vodka. And so on. Research has shown that the same can happen with children as they mature. They will pass this erratic behavior on to peers and to their children.

Here is where our bully comes out of  what we thought was just a funny situation on the webs. As soon as there is adherent behavior within the group of kids and if one of our humiliated has any credibility with the group they will seek to humiliate that person. Why?  That is what they were taught to do and will probably use it as an opportunity to relieve some of their own pain.

Will it be as overt as what they experienced? No!  They would be thrown out of school for that. It will be subtle and as crushing as they can make it. Besides they wouldn’t want their parents to find out about such behavior. Instead of a life lesson and help growing past it they would receive more public humiliation. They will use the same social media outlets that was used on them to tear down others.

I have worked with thousands of children. They will hide things from their parents if they know that the punishment will be erratic and/or unfair. And they will become very good at how they make other children feel their anger without exposing themselves to punishment. Consistent and reasonable discipline seem to go a long way with kids. What happens when that doesn’t work?  Topic of another day and probably bring in a guest to give us some insight.

For the parents: All that you are showing the world is that you lost control of the situation and want the world to know that you got it now. Friends of your child will learn to avoid you and fear you. Not respect you.   Parenting is tough. So is being a kid these days. When a kid gets frustrated and publicly embarrasses another we call that bullying.  What is it when parents do it?

Don’t be a bully this week.

Next up- Parents and other kids.

Make a Donation Button

Bully, Kids, Uncategorized

What your teaching your kids with Taylor and the Biebes

Lately we have all seen it run to death on every fan show and your choice of addiction news channels. The Biebes and his reckless behavior. Taylor’s reaction at not winning an award.
Two people we love to hate. Both have managed to be wildly successful despite people bashing them for years. I have to take issue with the bashing and the whole “they chose to be in the spotlight so…” issue. Here we go.
I do not like the Biebes music and can barely stand to look at him. Taylor Swift, I can handle her music in doses. Whatever your preference they both have made a lot of money and made a lot of people happy over the last few years. They have taken different paths in their personal choices but both still elicit such strong hate from adults who are now showing their worsts sides in going after two humans who they simply don’t like. Your children are watching how you treat them.
An example- Not too long ago I posted a pic of my 10 daughter writing songs on the way to her grandmother’s house. I commented that , like her or not, Taylor Swift is helping a lot of little girls believe that they can write music and play guitar. Someone quickly pointed out that my daughters songs were probably as good as hers anyway. That started the hate-fest.
Instead of seeing all the good Taylor Swift has done and try to encourage more girls to write and express themselves, I have to get around her thoughts of why everyone hates Taylor.
How many bad hit singles have written that make thousands of people buy your music and pack arenas? How many kids have you inspired to believe they can accomplish more this week? She reacted like a 20 something. She is competitive and driven. So what?
I do not condone the the Biebes and his latest fiasco. That is not the point of this. He made some mistakes and we can only hope that he will make better choices going forward.
It was comical to see so many people post hateful things about him this week. Some who I knew had DUI’s and other run-ins with the law when they were younger. Some of your husbands or wives had alcohol and drug related charges in college or high school. Most of you got over it and lived healthier lives.
What we are showing are kids is intolerance for people we don’t like because they are different. We are also showing them that screwing up means that we will not like them and there is no hope for redemption. We should hope that Justin gets his act together and lives a better life and grows as a musician. To sign a petition to have him deported… Come on folks You are being bullies and the your kids know it. Use it as tool to teach them about choices and consequences over piling on those people we don’t like when they are down. Don’t be a bully this week.