Camp anx­i­ety is far more than home­sick­ness

North York Post - - Kid -

My camp team has been go­ing to the big­gest camp di­rec­tors con­fer­ence in the world, the Amer­i­can Camp As­so­ci­a­tion TriS­tate Con­fer­ence, for years: 4,000 camp di­rec­tors, four days, about 20 work­shops on of­fer in every time slot, all day, every day. Many learn­ing op­tions for us. But not as many these days. Why? Be­cause they’re fo­cussing on men­tal health at camp.

Be­cause anx­i­ety is the new epi­demic at summer camps. Hence the at­ten­tion. Is it real, or are we just notic­ing it more?

Un­for­tu­nately it’s real. Twen­ty­five years ago camps didn’t get calls from parents say­ing their child is too anx­ious to swim in the lake … or go on ca­noe trip … or leave home. There was home­sick­ness, and it went away af­ter a few days. Anx­i­ety doesn’t go away. And it’s af­fect­ing staff, too, stop­ping some of them from per­form­ing all their du­ties.

Why the anx­i­ety epi­demic? Be­cause par­ent­ing, which for our parents was so sim­ple, has be­come a mine­field of com­pet­ing ide­olo­gies and prac­tices. We can’t en­joy the easy con­fi­dence our parents had about get­ting it right. This makes ev­ery­one anx­ious. Be­cause post 9/11 the world feels more anx­ious. Be­cause the In­ter­net brings us too much scary news 24/7. Be­cause we fear for our kids’ em­ploy­ment fu­ture, so we in­fect them with our worry, so they get tu­tored to get into the right school, so they can get into the right uni­ver­sity pro­gram, so they can get the right in­tern­ships, so they can.…

We drive them to school be­cause we fear the streets. We put them in af­ter-school and week­end pro­grams so they can learn the right stuff.

Gone are the end­less care­free hours of un­struc­tured free play, gone are road hockey and the feel­ing, for kids, that the ac­tual phys­i­cal world is a safe and won­der­ful place to ex­plore. Gone are the so­cial learn­ings of play. In their place is the new world of Face­book and In­sta­gram and Snapchat, a Wi-Fi world where anx­i­ety thrives like mildew on a wet bathing suit in a plas­tic bag. Be­cause every day, every hour, kids see shiny im­ages they’re wor­ried about living up to. They wit­ness in­ces­sant friend­ing and un­friend­ing; they see peo­ple go­ing to par­ties they’re not in­vited to: Which all cranks up so­cial anx­i­ety.

Enough of the problem. What are we, as parents, to do about it? Do we send them off to camp with anx­i­ety in their in­vis­i­ble bag­gage? Not with­out an “anx­i­ety tool­kit” — at their peril.

A ro­bust camp kids’ anx­i­ety tool­kit takes an ex­pert to build. If your anx­ious kid has a ther­a­pist, the ther­a­pist should be putting tools in the child’s hands. If not, get a new ther­a­pist. There are a lot of them out there.

Anti-anx­i­ety tools go like this: I’m claus­tro­pho­bic. Re­ally. El­e­va­tors scare me. Crowded or rick­ety el­e­va­tors are al­most im­pos­si­ble for me to en­ter. And yet some­times life re­quires this of me.

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