My daughter Zoey, 13, spent the past week at Camp EWALU in Strawberry Point.
It marks her fourth time at Bible camp. She’s been an “Explorer” and “Trailblazer.” She participated in the Music, Art, Drama (MAD) camp too. This year, she went to “Night Camp,” where campers stay up all night and sleep during the day.
Camp is tough. As many as 97 percent of children experience some occasional homesick feelings while at camp, notes Psychologist Michael Thompson in his book “What Camp Staff Can Do to Help Children.”
Feeling homesick is common. Most of the time it’s not severe, and it passes. EWALU allows letters to and from home and cautions against content that might exacerbate homesickness. In addition, EWALU discourages direct contact — phone calls or visits. Mobile phones and other electronic devices are forbidden.
As a parent, I admit camp is tough on me too. All week, I flashed on final images of Zoey standing beside her duffle, sleeping bag and sierra cup. She was flanked by college students who seemed to grow younger in my mind’s eye.
I worried Zoey would be scared or uncomfortable. Will she get enough to eat? Will she be safe? Will she have fun? Will she make memories?
It’s enough to make you wonder why I send Zoey to camp. I do so because she’ll have fun, make new friends and become more resourceful and resilient. She’ll develop in her faith in different ways — in an environment outside her comfort zone. It’s also good for her to learn being a little homesick isn’t the worst thing that can happen; it’s normal, and it passes.
For my part, I appreciate my particular religious denomination values outdoor ministry on this level. Our church assists us with paying for camp; our national denomination supports camping ministries.
I also send Zoey to camp because I’ll miss her. That’s not the worst thing that can happen. It’s normal, and it passes.
A generation ago, many children spent several weeks in the summer at either camp or a relative’s home.
It also was once commonplace for kids to walk and ride bicycles several blocks to friends homes, parks and other places. Today, we hold our kids close. Allowing kids the freedoms we enjoyed is perceived as such a rarity there’s actually a term for it: “free-range parenting.”
The notion is we were kids in “safer” times. However, that’s actually a well-worn myth, according to various data.
For example, rates of child homicide and all forms of premature death among children from birth to age 18 are at least at near-record lows, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. This gist, says The Washington Post, is kids today are safer than ever; children aged 5 to 14 have a 0.01 percent change of premature death.
The likelihood of child abduction is rare, too, and has dropped more than 40 percent in the past 20 years, notes the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Meanwhile, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration states the number of child pedestrians struck and killed by cars dropped more than two-thirds, to less than 250 per year.
All that is to say my worries are likely unfounded. The benefits of camp outweigh my concerns about scary stuff that probably won’t happen. Plus, it’s good to challenge Zoey and myself to grow in our child-parent relationship.
A regular summertime appointment with a faith-based camp also sends kids the message we as parents place high value on unplugging from earbuds, text messages, Instagram and TV to reconnect with nature and grow in their religious beliefs.