There’s probably no need to discuss the concept of “helicopter parenting” with camp families. Odds are good they already know how some parents can be “overprotective” or have an “excessive interest” in what their children are doing. Like a helicopter constantly hovering above, parenting can become excessive if children aren’t allowed to branch out on their own to try things without mom or dad always quick to swoop in to the rescue. It can be difficult for parents to “let go” like this. Camp parents, though, are presumably different. After all, they are choosing to “let go,” to send their children away into an environment where they will make many decisions for themselves, confront regular challenges on their own, probably struggle, and perhaps even fail at times. The independence gained, along with the feelings of confidence on competence that come with it, are valuable assets as a child grows up. I’d recommend reading How to Raise an Adult by Julie Lythcott-Haims to better understand this modern phenomenon. I can also recommend her 14-minute TED talk if you are really interested.
This is not to say camp parents are completely immune to helicoptering influences. We can’t really help but wonder how our girls are doing when they’re away at camp. Are they eating right? Are they remembering to take a shower? Brush their hair? Wear a clean shirt everyday? Are they having a good time? That’s the big one, right? Camps like Rockbrook understand this impulse and realize that all parents, to one degree or another, need some kind of reassurance that their kids are OK when they are away. That’s why, for example, we have our cabin counselors write letters to parents updating them. It’s also why we maintain a daily photo gallery, and post the occasional videos during each camp session.
At the same time, checking the photo gallery can become an obsession for some parents, multiple times a day, combing through every photo for even a glimpse of their child. From afar, this form of helicoptering interest seems harmless enough as long as the child at camp is unaware of it, and the parent can resist the instinct to reach out and help in some way. We don’t want the photo gallery to energize the parental snowplow, so to speak.
One form of this helicoptering goes too far, however, and when parents fall into this trap, their child’s experience at camp often suffers. So let me warn you so you can, I hope, resist the urge to over-parent your child’s camp experience like this. The trap is to establish some hand gesture, like a “thumbs up,” that you tell your child to flash when their photo is being taken as a coded signal home about how camp is going. Akin to a “pick up deal” where a parent promises to “come get you if you’re homesick,” this kind of messaging might seem innocuous, but can be a real burden for the camper. It effectively is removing her from the moment, distracting her from the people and activity around her with thoughts of evaluation rather than true participation. When sending your daughter to camp, it’s simply best not to tether her to home in this way, and instead to send her off by reassuring her that you are confident in her ability to handle life at camp independently.
I’m sure you know that camp is the ideal place to practice this independent self-efficacy, and this is one of its main benefits. Oddly if we’re not careful, our parental instincts can undermine the opportunity for our girls to grow while away at camp. Some camps are so concerned by this signal phenomenon, they have banned campers from making signalling gestures and instructed their photographers to delete photos that appear to have them. My hope is that Rockbrook parents will see the problems associated with all of this, park their helicopter for a few weeks, and trust that their children and our staff at camp can work through any problems that may arise, and together ultimately create a rich, rewarding, and enjoyable camp experience.
Meanwhile, we’ll continue to enjoy camp! Your girls and their friends will splash and scream with delight rafting the Nantahala River. They’ll climb the Alpine Tower and Castle Rock. They’ll swim and float in the Rockbrook lake, tie increasingly elaborate friendship bracelets, shoot more arrows, and sing even louder songs. They’ll be surprised by hidden talents and creativity. They’ll find kindness and caring permeating their days, a refreshing tech-free, authenticity to what they’re doing and with whom they’re doing it. Surrounded by the beauty of these wooded mountains, they’ll explore and be amazed by what they find in the natural world. They’ll laugh harder than they have ever laughed before. They’ll learn a lot about themselves, and be proud of who they are and what they can do. They’ll make more fond memories and best friends than you can count. They’ll be at camp.
Many of the inventions of modern society are made, in part, to shield us from the natural sensory experiences of the world. Our climate-controlled homes keep us from having to bundle up on a particularly chilly morning, our insulated cars keep us from experiencing the smells (good and bad) of the city as we commute to work, our many electronic screens train our eyes to stay focused on them, so we end up hardly seeing what happens right in front of us. A hot meal is delivered to us by the click of a button on an app, our headphones keep us from having to engage with others on a crowded elevator. We are “comfortable.”
These inventions are not, on their face, bad. Many have incredible value when it comes to meeting basic needs in an increasingly stressful world where our time is at a premium. And, of course, there is absolutely nothing wrong with taking advantage of some of the luxuries available when you want them. However, as they slowly but surely become accepted as the new normal in our society, the gap between ourselves and the natural world to which we belong also inevitably widens.
At camp, as we intentionally move away from many of the comforts we may take for granted in our lives at home, we begin to gain a new awareness for our senses. Colors quite literally appear brighter and more vivid once our eyes adjust to life without a flickering screen two feet from our faces half the day. Uneven terrain starts to feel comfortable and familiar under our feet after we trek up and down the Rockbrook hill enough times. Dolly’s Ice Cream starts to take on a whole new taste….. well, who are we kidding? Dolly’s always tastes amazing!
Admittedly, even at Rockbrook today we have more modern comforts in place than our great-grandmothers did in 1921. (Nowhere can this be seen more clearly the look on a camper’s face who has just stepped in to the air-conditioned office to ask a question). But, in a world increasingly committed to sanitizing and streamlining our existence for the sake of convenience and efficiency, camp gets us back in touch with the physical world and reminds us of our innate connection to it. Instead of grabbing a bite “because it’s lunchtime,” lunchtime happens because we’re genuinely hungry and ready to eat. Instead of going to sleep “because it’s bedtime,” by the end of the day we’ve used all our energy and are ready to rest. This re-framing allows for a more authentic connection and understanding of ourselves and our place in the world.
Our senses can be the source of many of our greatest discomforts, but also our greatest pleasures. If you aren’t willing to catch a whiff of a skunk every once and a while, you may never get to inhale that first whiff of campfire smoke or fresh mountain air on top of Castle Rock. In our opinion, it’s a trade-off well worth making.
Today I had an interesting conversation with one of our staff Education Interns about the different ways she saw life at camp supporting the social and emotional needs of the girls here. New to Rockbrook this summer (She is not a former camper or counselor.), she has been struck by how most everyone at camp has such an easy going attitude, happily engaging the different camp activities, but also content to just be at Rockbrook, no matter what the day would bring. The girls sign up for their own set of activities, but they don’t seem too obsessed with doing any particular thing. Sure there are accomplishments to strive toward— bullseyes in archery and riflery, reaching the top of the Alpine Tower while blind folded, throwing a pot on the potters wheel, making a powerful overhand serve in tennis, weaving a particular shaped basket, for example —and there are favorite trips to join (like rafting), but it almost seems like the girls could be doing anything and still tell you “I love camp.” She said, “It just feels good to be here,” no matter what we’re doing.
Being someone interested in Social Emotional Learning (SEL), she explained this feeling in those terms. She said Rockbrook’s “friendly community helps girls improve their relationship skills and be more self aware.” It’s true; “how we define our community is key to how it feels to be here,” I added. We agreed that being a part of a “relationship-based community” like Rockbrook, one dedicated to the core values of kindness, caring and generosity, is what “feels good.” The community provides an important context, one that fulfills our social and emotional needs, and hence is magically gratifying (what the girls will call “fun”) no matter what we’re doing.
This is exactly the point of this internship. We believe children at camp can learn to “respond to emotional triggers, engage with diversity, manage conflict, and make responsible decisions” when they join a community like Rockbrook. Our daily experience provides opportunities to practice “self-awareness, self-management, social-awareness, and relationship skills.” Life at camp is ripe with moments where these skills are exercised.
We also talked about why girls are so “loyal to Rockbrook,” why they so often want to return to camp summer after summer. Here too, we pointed to the easy feeling of being at camp, the authentic relationships of friendship we have here, and ultimately to the special community where we know we belong. Again, it’s not so much what they get to do, the crafts or adventure for example, that makes the girls yearn to return. It’s the social and emotional context that encourages the deep relationships with the other people at camp. We could change many of Rockbrook’s activity offerings and I suspect most girls would still love camp and still say it’s “fun.”
Lastly, we talked about how we might integrate aspects of camp life in the outside world, say in an elementary school classroom, so as to enhance SEL. Integrating SEL into educational settings is a thriving area of study, but from our experience at camp, we thought it crucial to begin with a culture of kindness, to build a collaborative community that encourages empathy, decision making, and belonging. Taking time to establish this kind of community, we thought, could be crucial for learning, just as it’s the foundation of what makes camp a place girls love.
Once again we were reminded of the power of camp. In these ways, it is educational in the best sense of the word, more so even than most traditional school settings. I find it remarkable too that kids love this kind of learning. They yearn for it. They need it. And fortunately for your Rockbrook girls, they have it.
One of the great things about the 4-week session at camp is that it gives us all more time to spend just hanging out with each other. It happens all the time: groups of girls casually sitting in the shade, chatting, working on a friendship bracelet tied to their water bottle. Between activities, before meals when we all have about an hour of unscheduled time, after dinner, and throughout the day: camp life provides an uninterrupted flow of friendly conversation. It’s a true luxury to enjoy spending time like this with the amazing people at Rockbrook.
Joining one of these impromptu groups is really pleasant too. The girls are so breezy and nice, curious and excited, silly and funny much of the time. I love asking the group questions and hearing what’s on their minds. For example, I recently asked a few campers what they love about Rockbrook that’s different from home. There are lots of answers to this question, and I believe it’s those differences that help explain why girls love camp. Many of the answers you might expect: “My camp friends… they know the real me,” “There’s so many fun things to do here,” “I love the food at camp.” One group of teenage campers surprised me when one said, “I like not having my phone,” and all the others chimed in agreeing. Teenage girls who happily give up using their smartphone? It’s a bit hard to believe, isn’t it?
You might expect the opposite, that the girls at camp are missing their phones, that they can’t wait to return to their Instagram accounts, Snapchat streaks, and Twitter followers. But it’s not true. Back home though, we’ve all seen it. Their lives revolve around their smartphones, using them for daily communication, socializing and entertainment. We’ve also seen this technology use effectively rule their lives, with teen girls spending an average of 9 hours per day on their phone, according to one study. Being constantly drawn to those little screens is a powerful force that we all deal with. As this sculpture “Absorbed by Light” portrays, our communication devices are effectively isolating us and distorting what we know about the world and feel about ourselves.
So why is camp different? If girls are happy to not use their phone here, why not at home too? That’s exactly what I asked the girls. They said at camp there’s simply no need for a phone. The authentic days of camp make any mediating device unnecessary. Here the community provides plenty of socializing, face-to-face communication, and rich real-world entertainment everyday. People here have lots of free time, but are never bored because there are friends all around, always engaging things to do available, and no pressure to perform a certain way. At home, unfortunately, all of this is less true, and their smartphones are used to fill the gap.
What’s amazing is that the girls recognize all of this. Living here at camp in this technology-free community has demonstrated for them that their smartphones, while convenient and perhaps even necessary in modern life, are also a burden. They feel a real sense of relief giving them up and not needing them. They welcome reclaiming those 9 hours per day, freeing themselves to enjoy all that camp offers. These Rockbrook kids love camp because they feel fulfilled without needing their phones.
At home, where the tight-knit community of camp is absent, the challenge is to find a healthy balance between using our phones and the kind of real-world, fully-engaging experience I think we all crave. The challenge is to structure our time, identifying when using technology is a benefit and when it is distancing us from what we really want and need. The luxury of camp life is not available all year long, after all that’s why we love camp and return to it every summer, but we can recognize what it provides and with this awareness, implement elements of it more broadly.
Your Rockbrook girls are taking great strides in that direction, and we should all be very proud!
It’s hard to believe it, but our 2018 summer season has come to a close. After our glorious though short time together, it’s now time for everyone at camp, all these great girls, to say farewell to Rockbrook for another year.
It’s really been an amazing summer, one that I think everyone will remember fondly. We could try to measure it by counting rounds of ammunition shot at riflery, pounds of clay shaped into pottery vessels, or muffins consumed during our mid-morning break. But adding up the materials of camp seems superfluous. We could look at the Mermaid laps swum in the lake, horses ridden, or trips down the Nantahala River rafting, but that too would be an inadequate measure. Looking at all the friendship bracelets tied on wrists, or the songs sung in the dining hall together, or the skits performed as cabin groups, gets us a little closer because they represent the friendships formed and strengthened while at camp.
It might be tempting to list special events— the exuberance of the shaving cream fight, the support and talent performed in the “Wizard of Oz” production, or the joyful celebration of the “Expedition Earth” banquet. We could point to accomplishments like being in the bullseye club for archery, winning the mop award, or climbing all three sides of the Alpine Tower. Camp could be understood as a success for all these reasons too, but there’s a deeper sense that we’ve all experienced something very special this summer.
All of these details are part of the answer, but I think the campers and staff members alike will mostly remember their camp days this summer by how they felt while here. It’s not what we did each day, but how we felt while doing it that has made this summer special.
It simply felt really good to be this active outside each day. It was a relief to find all these great girls who immediately accepted and encouraged our true selves. We felt more confident and competent with each daily moment of success. We felt truly connected to the people around us. We felt happy exploring the creative, sporty and silly sides of our personality. We experienced moments of pristine beauty and wonder in this lovely natural environment. We reveled in the constant current of friendship that buoyed everything at camp. Away from the habits of home, absent the pressures of school, given meaningful freedom, our camp days were inherently satisfying, rich with opportunities for new experience.
Our camp life this summer was amazing for all these reasons. So as we say farewell to camp for now, we’re sad to leave our friends and the good feelings that energized our days. We’re sad that the special way we feel at camp has to end until we can return next year.
Meanwhile, we can be thankful. Thanks to everyone for being the great girls of Rockbrook, contributing your love, energy and care to making camp life this wonderful. Thanks to everyone!
Here’s something fun! You might be anticipating your camp session later this summer, or you might be feeling nostalgia about time at camp, but you are definitely needing a little dose of camp life to get you by. If so, it might be time to pull out a classic camp movie. But which kid-friendly movie to choose?
Thinking about the classics, Corrine Sullivan at Popsuger makes several great suggestions.
Troop Beverly Hills (1989)
The Parent Trap (1998)
The Parent Trap (1961)
Ernest Goes to Camp (1987)
Camp Nowhere (1994)
It Takes Two (1995)
The Baby-Sitters Club (1995)
Addams Family Values (1993)
Camp Rock (2008)
You may have already seen several of these, but take a look again and you’ll be reminded of what’s important about being a kid, and how that blends with life at camp. When you’re feeling “campsick,” it makes perfect sense to watch any of them again. Enjoy!
It was a full day of high altitude adventure for a group of 13 seniors who signed up for a special trip today. Lukas and Gabby, two of our outdoor staff members, planned and led the trip. Leaving after breakfast with muffins for a snack break, and a pack of sandwiches for lunch, they drove up to the Blue Ridge Parkway, making it all the way to the edge of the Shining Rock Wilderness area where they parked and set out on the Art Loeb Trail. This trail leaves the parking lot and follows the ridge line over several of the highest mountains in North Carolina, Black Balsam and Tennent Mountain being the most prominent. You can see from this photo that these peaks, which are over 6000ft high, are grassy, treeless knobs that provide amazing distant views when the weather is good, like it was today. Perfect places to enjoy the pleasure of a homemade muffin baked at camp!
Spending the whole day out allowed the girls next to make a fun stop at a popular swimming hole known as “Skinny-dip Falls.” They had come prepared with swimsuits and towels, and with their packed lunch, the sunny afternoon swimming and sunbathing on the boulders below the falls was wonderful. They took turns leaping from the “jump rock” and posing for photos. The leisurely pace, plenty of time to soak in the surrounding forest (big trees now!), and the delightfully cold mountain water created a special experience.
Back at camp, we deemed today “Red and White Day.” Essentially, we created a simple theme for creative costumes or dressing up. In some cases it was a simple as wearing a red t-shirt or a headband, and since Rockbrook’s colors are red and white, just about everybody had something they could wear. Sarah went all out, though. She has Rockbrook gear going back to the corduroy RBC hat, Rockbrook socks, hair ties, t-shirt, shorts, and fleece tied around here waist. Rockbrook red and white in all ways. It’s neat how the pleasure of a simple dress up theme adds to the fun of a zany community like Rockbrook.
After dinner during our “Twilight” time, Chase organized an all-camp game of “Counselor Hunt.” As you can imagine this involves the counselors hiding and the campers, as cabin groups, scouring the camp looking for them. We randomly assign point values to the counselors so that when found points can be added up to award prizes in the end. A few counselors successfully hid throughout the search period (I suspect covered in leaves), while others were found almost immediately. The whole event is really fast paced as the cabin groups race around trying to be the first to find any particular counselor. Here too, something simple— in this case “hide and seek” —made for exciting all-camp fun.
Don’t you just love this last photo? It’s a gorgeous example of another simple pleasure of life at Rockbrook. Different than the fast-paced, competitive, technology-fueled, pressure (even anxiety) of our kids’ ordinarily lives, camp opens up space for girls to explore, play freely, imagine and create. …like right here in this photo where all of that is happening spontaneously beneath a hydrangea bush. The best word for it might be “joy.” There’s a contentment, something additional and deeper, that makes camp “fun” more affecting. Sometimes it takes a while for girls to realize they can be themselves like this at camp, but once they experience it, everyone will tell you they love it. They know “There’s no place like camp.”