Written by Doctor G

Overnight camp – when to push them out of the nest

My daughter is going in to 5th grade and a lot of her friends are away at summer camp for part or all of the summer. My daughter is just not interested. She says the activities all sound fun but she doesn’t want to be away from home. Her Dad and I are worried that she is missing out on a lot of great experiences, and we’re also worried that she will fall behind socially – her friends will come back with all these great bonding experiences and she will be left out. But I don’t think we should force her to go. What do you think?

Susan, in Toronto, Canada

A: Susan – happy belated Canada Day! And thanks for your important question. Summer is a time when parents often see the developmental differences in kids in a way they don’t notice as much during the school year.

School year requirements being so structured, it’s a very equalizing experience for most kids. Whether they are ready for something or not is (unfortunately) not the issue. During school they – to be blunt – adapt or fail. Summer seems like such a relief to many kids. I think a big reason for that is the shift in expectations.

The summer provides an opportunity for kids to find their own true north. As you may have guessed, I think letting your daughter stay home is a great choice for her. If you’ve been reading here you know that I believe strongly in building resilience in children. This means helping them use the blueprint they were born with to navigate the world around them.

It sounds like her blueprint is a little more cautious than some of her peers. What a great protection this will be for her in the teen years! Show respect for that caution now so that she respects those instincts later and doesn’t go along with the crowd to a dangerous degree.

It also seems that she is a free-thinker. If it has occurred to you that her friends will come home with camp stories and jokes and shared experiences, it has probably occurred to her also. Still, she has chosen to be true to her nature. Be proud of her. And encourage her to make some other friends this summer. Explore some new hobbies and new peers as a result. This way she will have the holy grail of the middle school social scene – options!

I personally slip into all-the-kids-are-away-for-a-couple-of-weeks fantasies pretty regularly, so I would be tempted to tell my kids “It’ll be great! Bye!” Kudos to you and her dad for not pushing her to leave home yet, even for a few weeks. There is time. I know that there are teens who don’t leave home when it finally is time, but it is not usually due to homesickness. The urge to strike out on our own blooms in nearly everyone, but the exact age depends on the individual. Teach her to trust herself by showing her that you do.

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