Get a Life!


Do you remember going to a sleepaway summer camp when you were a kid? I do! My first sleepaway camping experience was a Girl Scout camp when I was in fourth grade. My mom helped me pack my duffle bag. We selected a pair of shorts, t-shirt, underpants, and socks for each day, rolled them up and put a rubber band around it. My Mom seemed just as excited as I was. Now I understand that she was looking forward to a week without Precocious Page underfoot. When I returned, we both had stories to tell.

Listening to an NPR story about sleepaway camps last week, I was both mildly amused and saddened. According to the American Camp Association, millions of children attend nearly 8,400 different sleepaway camps around the U.S. and less than a fifth of those allow access to the Internet on a scheduled basis. More importantly, only 10 percent allow access to cellphones. Although the campers go through an adjustment period at first, it’s the parents who are the most problematic.

Why? Parents are conditioned to having frequent contact with their kids thanks to mobile devices. Knowing the camp rules, some parents get sneaky and hide phones in the luggage or mail phones to their kids because they can’t stand not knowing. So what do some camp directors do? They post pictures and video online. But this can backfire. "They dissect every picture,” says Jeff Grabow, the director of Camp Echo. "It can throw a first-year parent into a spiral. Very often we'll have children playing a game and in the background they might see their child looking up at the sky, and we'll hear, 'My son or daughter looks sad.'"

I guess you know now why I was both mildly amused and saddened. I get that you miss your darling offspring, but I also see a huge missed opportunity. First, at a sleepaway camp, your children get a chance to discover their own grit and resilience. You have given them space to become their best selves. Second, you have the chance to reclaim yourself and get a life! In Julie Lythcott-Haims’ book, How to Raise an Adult, she devotes the entire last section to this very concept and introduces her thoughts with a Carl Jung quote, “Nothing has a stronger influence psychologically on their environment and especially on their children than the unlived life of the parent.”

I’m reminded of Annie Dillard’s remembrance in An American Childhood where she reflects on her first discovery of an amoeba under her newly gifted microscope: 

“Before I had watched him at all, I ran upstairs. My parents were still at table, drinking coffee.  They, too could see the famous amoeba.  I told them, bursting, that he was all set up, that they should hurry before his water dried.  It was the chance of a lifetime.  Father had stretched out his long legs and was tilting back in his chair.  Mother sat with her knees crossed, in blue slacks, smoking a Chesterfield.  The dessert dishes were still on the table….  Mother regarded me warmly.  She gave me to understand that she was glad I had found what I had been looking for, but that she and Father were happy to sit with their coffee, and would not be coming down. She did not say, but I understood at once, that they had their pursuits (coffee?) and I had mine.  She did not say, but I began to understand then, that you do what you do out of your private passion for the thing itself. I had essentially been handed my own life.  In subsequent years my parents would praise my drawings and poems, and supply me with books, art supplies, and sports equipment, and listen to my troubles and enthusiasms, and supervise my hours, and discuss and inform, but they would not get involved with my detective work, not hear about my reading, nor inquire about my homework or term papers or exams, nor visit the salamanders I caught, nor listen to me play the piano, nor attend my field hockey games, nor fuss over my insect collection with me, or my poetry collection or stamp collection or rock collection.  My days and nights were my own to plan and fill.” (pp 148-9)

Parents, take a cue from Lythcott-Haims who makes the following suggestions:


About Author

Page Cvelich

College/Teen Program Manager

Page Cvelich has brought a wealth of knowledge to the Work/Life Center from prior experience as a high school guidance counselor and parent education coordinator. Page has been responsible for setting up a high school college and career center, designing a career exploration program for teens and serving as a counselor at a backpacking camp in the Rockies. In her role as Teen/College Program Manager, Page enjoys interacting with small groups of parents and teens, as well as consulting one-on-one with parents and referring them to resources so that they are better able to provide the support and encouragement their kids need.

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