You might be wondering how you got to this point. Your little one, well not so little anymore, is off to summer camp! Your knee jerk reaction is to want to keep them safe, which often means having them within eyesight, ear shot or at least only an “arm’s length” away.
Of course, when they’re home you can watch over them, you know their plans and you can check in with them at any time. But now they’re heading off to camp alone, and wait, what? They’re going to take away their phones or ask them to leave them at home?
These are the thoughts that cross most parent’s minds when they consider sending their teens off to camp. Add a chronic illness to the equation and it quickly puts us in “mama and papa” bear mode.
As a team of child life specialists, our advice is to stop and do a reality check. Summer camp has the potential to help a chronically ill teen build confidence, become more independent and enhance their coping skills while giving them a chance to still be a kid! It also gives them access to a new community of peers, take on new responsibilities, and step out of their comfort zone to try new things.
If this is your reaction as a parent, your youth is probably having a reaction of their own. They’ll need you to believe in and encourage them when you’re sending them off to camp. When you believe in them it helps them become more open-minded to believing in themselves.
Here are our 3 tips to support youth on their way to summer camp
1. Start a dialogue.
Talk to them about what they can expect at camp. Check out the camp’s website to see the cabins, activities, layout, and pictures from past seasons. This helps youth regain a sense of calm, because they will know what to anticipate when they arrive.
2. Be positive.
Keep camp related talk positive. This means keeping your own emotions and internal conversations in check if you must. Avoid placing your fear on them by saying phrases like “a week is long; do you think you could manage being away that long” or “I hope you don’t get homesick.” Remember they might also listen in on conversations you’re having with friends and family so be sure to stay positive even when you’re on the phone. You can put a positive spin on your conversations with them and others and build them up with phrases like: “I can’t wait to hear about all the fun you’ll have” and “I hear at camp they have____, you will love that.”
3. Trust them, they’re experts.
Know the camp’s policies and trust in them. The staff are experienced, they run camp programs all the time, and they’ve learned how to help set your camper up for success. This might include a ‘no cell phone’ policy. Phones distract youth and can stop them from living in the moment. They can also make it difficult to keep them on task or on a schedule. Encourage your child to gain independence and learn new skills while they’re away from home. Having their phone is a constant reminder that they aren’t at home which can actually enable homesickness. Find a communication solution that everyone is comfortable with. Perhaps this means encouraging letter writing, or leaving a handwritten note with the staff. If they like to listen to music, perhaps you can set them up with an alternative device to use. Check in with the camp to learn about their policies and find solutions.
We hope these tips give you a bit of confidence when sending your baby off for their big adventure. They’ll be back in your arms with incredible experiences to share in no time. If they’re looking for a way to stay in touch with their new friends at camp, Upopolis, our private and safe social network for chronically ill youth is a great place for them to connect. Contact us to learn more.