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Quality not Quantity

During this time of year I tend to do what a lot of people do, and that is to give thanks and think about how lucky I am. With so much other stuff going on around the world, I am thankful for the things I have and the people in my life.

One of the things I truly cherish are the friends I have. Whether it be my friends from growing up, high school, camp, college, or my work – I am lucky to have such great people in my life. Please note that I didn’t say “so many people,” but rather “great” ones. Like many things, I believe that friendships should be about quality and not quantity.

I recently moved back from living abroad for three years. While living in London, I kept in touch with my good friends from the US. Now that I’m back in New York, I am working hard to keep in touch with my friends across the pond. It’s not easy. People have busy lives, and I don’t expect my friendship with those I see on most weekends, to be the same as those who I’ve worked with, or who now live in another country. The point is that as I’ve gotten older, I’ve made a conscious effort to stay in touch with those who matter most.

Of course, someone that you may have been best friends with in elementary or high school, you might not have as much in common with anymore. That doesn’t mean that either of you did anything wrong, you just grew apart, and that’s okay. What I’ve realized though, is that with everyone’s busy lives, it does take time, effort and energy to stay in touch with good friends.

I attended the sleep away camp that I currently work at over the summers, and through the years I have met some pretty amazing people. I’m lucky to say that I have friends from all over the world. This, however, does not make it easy to maintain a friendship. We have to all try – whether it be emailing, Facebook, Facetime or Skype – it takes work – just like most relationships.

I recently read an article called Dear Girls, Life is too Short For Crappy Friends.
The author, Anna Lind Thomas argues that being popular and liked is overrated. I completely agree. I don’t expect young children and even teens to fully understand this, but I hope that as you grow older, you begin to realize that it’s more important to develop friendships that allow you to be true to yourself.

A lot of people who have experienced camp or a summer program in their lives will often say, “My camp friends are my best friends.” Why is this? Well, there’s something about living with other girls (or guys) for a summer that makes you instantly bond. The relationships I have with my camp friends are different than others. My camp friends have seen me first thing in the morning, they’ve seen me at my worst, and at my best. This is because we are literally together 24/7. Of course we fight, and there’s petty drama, but my camp friends know me better than anyone.

So I know that as a teen, it is hard to believe that sometimes less is more, especially when it comes to having friends. But I hope that if you take anything away from this, it’s that we need to cherish the truly great friendships we have, and not take them for granted. And like Anna Lind Thomas said, “life is too short for crappy friends.”

The ‘No Child Left Out’ Act

Almost everyone goes through it, and yet that doesn’t stop us from doing it to other people. It’s supposed to stop as we get older, so why, then, are moms sometimes the catalysts for children feeling left out? Lisa Barr is a mother and editor and creator of GIRLilla Warfare. She recently wrote an article about her friend who told her about a mom who managed to get onto a camp bus and roped off a section of the bus for her daughter and friends to sit. When a new camper got on the bus and asked to sit in the roped off area, the mom told her that it was reserved for other girls. The girl who was not allowed in the reserved area was most likely left feeling nervous, rejected, and inadequate. We all know this should not be.

As a head counselor at a camp, we don’t allow parents on the buses. The bus ride to camp is a sacred and special time to a camper, and while parents stand outside waving goodbye with their sunglasses covering their teary eyes, the children are already fully immersed in camp songs.

We’ve all heard the quote “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you,” and we learn in school and at camp that it’s important to be inclusive. I’ve always told my campers or students that you don’t have to be best friends with everyone, but you need to respect everyone. It’s a simple rule that I wish parents would follow. Of course there are exceptions to every rule. For example, if you or your child is having a very small birthday dinner and you can only invite 2 or 3 friends, then that is fine. But also remember to be considerate when talking about said birthday dinner or posting about it on social media. It’s not however, acceptable, in our opinion, to throw your child a birthday party and invite everyone in their class except for 1 or 2 people. You’re not only blatantly excluding two children, but you’re telling your kid that it’s okay to do that. As adults, we need to set good examples for our children.

In addition to not leaving other people out, make sure to teach your kids about sticking up for one another. If your child’s friend was the only one not invited to a birthday party, it’s okay to speak up/advocate for your friend. Sometimes the bystander effect makes us just as guilty as the one who is doing the excluding. You will never regret including more people, but you may regret hurting someone’s feelings.

As adults, we need to set good examples for our children. So let’s practice being inclusive as often as we can. The result could likely be happier and kinder people.

The Unwritten Rules of Social Media

Let’s face it: social media is a part of our everyday life whether we like it or not. Unfortunately, experts are telling us different things when it comes to how to use it effectively, when to use it, and which social media apps or websites are the best.

As someone who is (gasp!) almost 30, I was at the forefront when social media began to take over our lives. My introduction to the social media world was with Facebook during my freshman year at college. Facebook led to Twitter, which led to Pinterest, then Instagram – you see where I’m going with this. Whenever I post something on one of these platforms, my dad’s voice is in the back of my mind saying, “Don’t put anything on there that you wouldn’t want a future employer to see.” With his wise words in mind, I was and still am always sure to not post things on my accounts that schools/college admissions and/or current/future employers would not like to see.

Some may argue that sites such as Facebook and Instagram are just as much about the rush of scoring likes as it is sharing something creative with your friends. Rachel Simmons wrote an article for the New York Times entitled Why Your Kids Love Snapchat, and Why You Should Let Them. Snapchat, (for those unaware) is an app that lets its users share photos that will then disappear in a matter of seconds. Simmons argues that Snapchat vastly differs from Instagram because audience participation is minimal. No one is able to “like” your picture and there is no unwritten rule of reciprocity or mean comments that you have to worry about.

That brings me to my next topic, which could have (and has had) its own 100+ blog posts written about it, which is online bullying. Having worked at schools and camps, I have seen first-hand how cyber bullying has taken its toll on children. And of course, Snapchat isn’t foolproof. Simmons says that “like all social media, Snapchat can be used as a vehicle for cruelty, and FOMO, or the fear of missing out, still afflicts users.” You may still get a glimpse of an event or party that you weren’t invited to, but as one teen said, “you may feel excluded, but at least it disappears! You can’t sit there and look at it all night and feel bad.”

So there’s lots of things to remember when using different social media platforms, but here are just a few of ours:

  • Be careful what you post – remember what my dad said: don’t put anything on Facebook/Instagram etc. that you wouldn’t want your employer/school (or even grandmother!) to see.
  • Be mindful – you may have had a great birthday party with some friends, but there were people who weren’t invited, so be conscious when posting pictures. We tell this all the time to families who send their children to sleep-away camp. Don’t have a bunk reunion without one or two campers and then post a picture about it.
  • Don’t mention or tag people without their permission – when working at a summer camp, we tell counselors that they are not allowed to post anything with the camp’s name on it. This is to protect the privacy of camp families.
  • Don’t overshare – it’s nice to keep friends in the loop about what’s going on in your life (marriage, new baby etc.), but no one really wants to know every little detail of your life.
    Make sure your accounts are private – If you happen to let an inappropriate photo or post slip through the cracks, it is best that your account is on private so that not everyone can see.
  • Stay in touch – Social media is meant to be fun, and there are benefits such as keeping in contact with old friends, networking and even staying up to date with current events. Just remember to be safe and mindful.

Middle School: Life Lessons Learned at Camp

There was recently an article on the Joyful Parenting Coaching website that discussed the things that middle school aged children should be able to do on their own. Many of the things that the author, Elisabeth Sitt, mentioned were the basic life skills that go along with that old saying, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” Parents nowadays are so used to holding their kids’ hands through every step of their lives, that when children go away from home for the first time, they are not prepared.

Sitt says that middle school aged students should be waking up, getting dressed and washing up on their own. When it comes time to breakfast and lunch, show your children how to make a healthy well-balanced meal instead of just doing it for them every day – remember, go back to the “teach a man to fish” motto!

Sitt goes on to talk about how children should do some cooking and cleaning, choose their own electives and extra-curricular activities, ask for help, and be able to handle money. I, and I’m probably not the only one, learned most of these skills at camp. Both of my parents worked full-time, and that’s not to say I did not learn valuable lessons from them, but when it came time to cooking, I had the Chinese and pizza delivery on speed dial.

Sure, my summers at camp were spent playing sports, water-skiing and hanging out with my friends, but it was also the time I learned to become independent and live without my parents for the first time. Starting when I was eight years old at camp, I learned how to make my bed with hospital corners, how to fold my clothing so that my cubby mirrored a shelf at GAP. I was able to pick my own electives – and for the seven years that I was a camper, I was able to pick activities that I loved, and not just ones that would look good on a college application.

If I was having a problem, or there was drama with friends, it was up to me to fix the situation or ask one of my counselors for help. I wasn’t able to have my mom intervene as she might have done if I was home. In addition, every week we went on trips out of camp. We were able to take out money from our “camper bank.” This was the first time I was forced to balance a bank account. If I was going to use up all my money on one trip, then I would have nothing left to take with me on our overnight trip to Boston.

Being at camp was fun, but it also meant responsibility to look after myself without my parents, becoming more self-sufficient and helped better prepare me for middle school, high school, college, and eventually the real world.

Advice for High School Seniors Applying to College

I recently read an article in the New York Times summarizing the colleges Malia Obama is likely applying to and her recent campus visits. Malia, a senior at Sidwell Friends School, is going through the same experience as many high school seniors. Even as the President’s daughter, she too is filling out college applications. The article made me reminiscent of the time that I applied to college, just six years ago and in the digital age. Here are some guidelines that I wish my peers and I knew in high school.

  • Submit your applications sooner than later: The application process has many steps and layers. You’ll feel relieved once your essays, scores and applications are sent out. Set a goal to submit all applications, even general regular decision applications, before the holiday season. You’ll want fewer assignments hanging over your head as you enter your second semester.
  • Rejection is a good thing: You are not flawed if you receive a rejection letter. For some, this might be the first time a student faces rejection. It’s hard, but it’s an important life experience. It makes you more resilient as you grow up and gives you thicker skin. It also means you took a risk with a certain school, and you won’t be wondering, “what if” you didn’t submit that application to that college.
  • Build your resume: A resume for college applications, or “brag sheet” is unique to traditional resumes. This is your opportunity to add all the extracurricular activities, nonprofit organizations, and especially summer experiences that pertain to your life, and distinguish who you as an applicant. The summer proves to be a pivotal time for students, so reflect on that as you document how you spent your time. Oftentimes insightful essays may result, as well. It always helps to share meaningful experiences on your applications!
  • Keep track of your usernames, passwords and IDs: This is something our parents aren’t thinking of. When they applied to college, they didn’t have to create usernames, password and 15 digit security codes. Not to mention each school has different requirements and case sensitive guidelines for passwords. Create ONE document that lists all your usernames & passwords. Ah, first world problems!
  • Don’t post admissions decisions on social media: If there’s one guideline you take away from this list, please let it be this one. Being accepted to a college is an exciting feeling, but don’t post it online. One of your friends or classmates could have been deferred or rejected from the same school, and posting your acceptance could upset them. Be kind and respectful, and tell your friends in person. After all, a congratulatory hug or high five feels better than “a like”.
  • Admissions outcomes do not correlate to college experiences: I’ll never forget about the girl who was accepted early decision to an elite university from my high school and then transferred the following year. And then another girl who only got into her “safety school” and had the time of her life. Your admissions decision will not determine your social life and your education. Making the most of your four years at college, will!

The college application process will have its inevitable highs and lows, even for Malia Obama. Remember it only reflects one part of your senior year, and there will be other experiences to look forward to. And as for Malia, might we predict she’ll follow in Chelsea Clinton’s steps and go to Stanford University? Go Cardinal! Or, did her summer internship open her eyes to the Big Apple for college?

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