Next Steps

Prepping for College – Camp Can Help

Staff and campers reading a script for acting

By Mitch Parker

On my most quiet Saturday of the year, the Saturday after all campers and staff have returned home from a summer at camp, I was sitting down for my morning read of the Wall Street Journal. In the REVIEW section there was a headline that caught my eye. It read: “IS YOUR CHILD EMOTIONALLY READY FOR COLLEGE?” (Wall Street Journal August 24/25, 2019). The answer is this: perhaps not entirely, but the good news is that camp can help. For years I have been telling parents about the benefits of the summer camp experience and how it can help a young adult cope with the upcoming challenges of college. The WSJ article seemed tailor-made to back up my suggestion that camp can make this transition successful.

Prepping for College – Camp Can Help

Here is the issue. Many teenagers headed to college lack the emotional maturity for their first real encounter with independence. All of us who shipped off to college far away from home were nervous and many felt feelings of anxiety, fear, and even loneliness as we headed into a completely new environment. When I left for college, I hadn’t visited the University of Colorado campus at all. I had no idea of what to expect outside of the beautiful brochure pictures of the campus with red tile roofs on the buildings and the view of the famous Flatirons rocks in the hills just outside of town. I do remember my dad giving me a hug and reminding me to study, have fun, and graduate in four years (an ultimatum he was serious about after my older brother stretched the limit a bit), and I distinctly remember feeling that I was now truly on my own.

Now, my three kids have all gone away to college and when they did, I asked myself what I could do and could have done better to help them cope with this brave new world. As parents, what can we do to help prepare our children for college? Unfortunately, the road to college confusion can be paved with good intentions. According to Rostain and Hibbs, who penned the WSJ article, “The more that parents have done along the way to help their teens prepare, the less ready their offspring may be to handle problems without their help.” So how can parents help and at the same time keep from getting in the way of their children learning critical adaptation skills?

You may be surprised to know just how serious this problem is and how common. According to the WSJ article, more than 85% of first-year college students described feeling “overwhelmed,” and 51% felt at some point that “things were hopeless.” Based on a survey of 155,000 students at 200 campuses last year, a third of college students received treatment at campus counseling centers. This is a big number. The result is what we now see on campus: “a generation of young people who often lack the maturity and resilience to deal with the emotional ups and downs of early adulthood.”

Is it any shock that two important causes of the emotional fragility of today’s college students increased greatly with the emergence of the internet and the unsettling influence of social media? Our authors state, “In the response to these rapid social changes, American parents have moved away from the traditional emphasis on encouraging childhood independence, seeking instead to exert ever more control over their children’s lives.”

At some point we have all been helicopter parents, hovering around our children to point them in the right direction and keep them safe. What we need and want is a place where we can allow our children to become more independent, and more self-confident, while immersed in a safe and supervised setting. Camp is exactly that environment. While college may be an adventure into the unknown, camp is a training center for self-empowerment. At Camp Waziyatah, we not only encourage childhood independence, we embrace it. It’s four-weeks of getting outside your comfort zone, learning crucial social skills without technology, in a caring, loving, wholesome environment.

Staff member walks with campers

Rosin and Hibbs write that perhaps the hardest emotional milestone for parents to achieve involves the promotion of a child’s autonomy. When your child arrives at Wazi, they are greeted by a warm and smiling staff that welcomes them into their new environment. But right away, they are quickly presented with the opportunity to begin the first steps of being independent and establishing their individuality at camp. They are immediately meeting and making new friends, selecting their activities and exploring their new social and physical environment in a new and exciting adventure. Sound familiar? Is it really that different than our first days of college, where we are meeting our new roommates, registering for classes, and beginning a new life stage? The similarities are strong and camp helps promote the very behaviors kids need to feel ready for a new place. Many parents have told me that camp really helped their child when they entered middle school, or a new school, or when the family moved to a new town.

A child’s successful passage from home to college and their ability to thrive at there requires many of the social skills we learn at camp. By sending your children to camp, you are empowering your kids to confront the challenges of being away from home where they develop the self-confidence needed to overcome a new and stressful environment. Camp provides the platform for a child’s independence and personal growth, the ability to make their own choices, and the opportunity to experience the rewards of making new friends. Fortunately for me, I was able to easily adapt to college thanks to my summers at camp and there is no doubt that when the time comes for your children to set out on their college adventure, Wazi campers will be a lot more ready for the challenge than those who haven’t had the camp experience.

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