An insightful and powerful look at the magic of summer camp—and why it is so important for children to be away from home . . . if only for a little while.
In an age when it’s the rare child who walks to school on his own, the thought of sending your “little ones” off to sleep-away camp can be overwhelming—for you and for them. But parents’ first instinct—to shelter their offspring above all else—is actually depriving kids of the major developmental milestones that occur through letting them go—and watching them come back transformed.
In Homesick and Happy, renowned child psychologist Michael Thompson, PhD, shares a strong argument for, and a vital guide to, this brief loosening of ties. A great champion of summer camp, he explains how camp ushers your children into a thrilling world offering an environment that most of us at home cannot: an electronics-free zone, a multigenerational community, meaningful daily rituals like group meals and cabin clean-up, and a place where time simply slows down. In the buggy woods, icy swims, campfire sing-alongs, and daring adventures, children have emotionally significant and character-building experiences; they often grow in ways that surprise even themselves; they make lifelong memories and cherished friends. Thompson shows how children who are away from their parents can be both homesick and happy, scared and successful, anxious and exuberant. When kids go to camp—for a week, a month, or the whole summer—they can experience some of the greatest maturation of their lives, and return more independent, strong, and healthy.
Thompson, a clinical psychologist and parenting expert (The Pressured Child), was motivated to study kids and sleep-away camp not only by his own childhood but also by "a growing body of troubling conversation with educators and parents." The former were having difficulty getting permission for kids to attend overnight school trips; the latter were becoming increasingly unwilling to part with their children, or they chose academic or skills camp over those that focused on character development. As a child psychologist, Thompson also noticed that kids seemed increasingly emotionally fragile and overly dependent on parental guidance. But despite the rising anxiety of parents, the author asserts, the benefits of camp are many, including the fact that kids may make developmental leaps when removed from their parents' watchful eyes. Campers, Thompson observes, have an opportunity to live for a brief time in a magical, electronics-free, natural environment; to forge new friendships, develop leadership skills, explore choices and opportunities not available at school; and excel in ways that increase self-esteem. Even those kids who are homesick develop resilience and gain from the experience. While noting that not every child has a love affair with camp, Thompson who visited 19 camps primarily in the northeast during his research concludes that the vast majority of children are positively affected by sleep-away camp. This incisive "fireside view" of summer camp also includes practical tips and advice for fretful parents.