Summer can be a transformative developmental experience – whether it’s a traditional camp, a pre-college program, or an independent project. A summer experience can help your child or teen learn new hard skills, while also helping them develop the social-emotional skills they’ll need to prepare for the next phase in life, whether that’s 4th grade or Freshman year of college. In short, a summer experience can be hugely impactful in helping kids and teens grow up.
The thing is, growing up is not always easy. In fact, it rarely is. Growth experiences are challenging by their very nature – it is this challenge, the experience of stepping outside our comfort zones, that fosters and facilitates development. But that doesn’t make it any easier to receive a sad letter home, or a disappointed phone call. So how can you, as a parent, walk the line between advocating for your child while not depriving them of the experience to mature in a meaningful way?
Get the Whole Story
If you do receive word from your child or teen that they’re having a tough experience in one way or another, the first thing to do is to get in touch with the camp or program directors and listen to their thoughts on the situation. Remember, when you sent your young one away, you were placing an implicit and explicit trust in the program partner to take care of them; just because there’s been a hiccup, that doesn’t mean it’s time to stop trusting. You might learn that the issue was a temporary rift with a friend that has already blown over, or that your child is generally smiling and participatory and happened to call home when they were feeling badly. You might find there’s more to the issue and either you or the camp/program should intervene. In any case, by speaking with the camp and/or program director, you’ll have more clarity regarding any next steps you need to take, and you’ll position yourself to work as an ally to help resolve any issues.
Teamwork Makes the Dream Work
If there is an issue that needs addressing, try to work in lockstep with the camp or program to make changes. If a child or teen is reluctant to get involved, you can suggest approaches you’ve used in the past to successfully draw them out, or the kinds of activities or situations that might bring them out of their shell. However, especially if you’re communicating directly with your child or teen, be sure you don’t undermine the work the camp or program is trying to do. Telling a camper that they can sit out of any activities they’d like is not a solution if the camp is trying to get them to participate. Likewise, encouraging your teenager to call home when they’re feeling lonely might hold them back from making friendships on a pre-college program, in the US or abroad. It may be tough for them to clear the initial hump, but once they do, they’ll be better off for it. Come up with the plan with the camp or program, and your child or teen, treating them as a partner – and then work to help them execute it. Keep in mind that your teen may prefer they do the actual fixing, taking into account your suggestions, so that they feel they can maintain an appropriate rapport with key staff and peers.
Trust Your Instincts
All of this advice comes with one major caveat – you are the parent, and you have to feel comfortable with every situation involving your child or teen. If you feel strongly that the camp or program isn’t on the same page as you, you are the person who needs to advocate for your child or teen to do what’s best. Maintain a level head, but ultimately you know your child best and you need to feel good about any decisions that are made.
As parents, you are so used to being there for your kids, that it can be particularly hard when issues arise and you are not on-hand to deal with them. By following these three simple steps, you can help stay apprised of the situation and use your parenting wisdom without undoing any of the personal development your child or teen has achieved during this unique period.