In recent years, we have read a great deal about grit and resilience.
We have also seen studies about emotional fragility in our young people. Even beyond the studies, I have personally seen a rise in young people (often first time campers) who struggle with overcoming adversity and bouncing back from failure.
But we know that life will have its challenges. Our children will experience failures. They will experience loss and potentially even tragedy.
I can think of no greater task as a parent or an educator than to help prepare our children to overcome these future struggles.
But in order to do so, we must face an important realization.
Doing so will be hard for us.
As parents, we want to protect our children from dangers and hardships. Our desire to protect them from real threats can also lead us to going too far. In our love, we can find ourselves striving to protect them from discomfort, embarrassment, sadness, or boredom. Their pain or discomfort becomes ours and we often do everything we can to eliminate it.
But this does not serve them. Our children need to learn how to cope with disappointment, heartache, sadness, and failure. They need to learn how to deal with an awkward social situation and social break-ups. We should not be absent: we should be there to let them know that we have experienced similar challenges and that we are available to help them.
But we need to let them have these experiences themselves now. Learning to cope with challenge is like developing resistance to diseases. You become better at it through exposure to the challenges. Children are “anti-fragile”, which is to say that they become more capable through challenge. [I recently wrote an article explicitly on this topic.]
I share this because it deeply influences how camp benefits your child.
We want camp to be full of friendships, laughter, fun, and activities. But we also know it is a powerful place to build internal strength. I use “strength” rather than “resilience” for a reason. “Resilience” simply means that you are no worse after a challenge. If we are indeed anti-fragile, we should emerge from a challenging situation stronger. With that in mind, I hope some of the following happens to every camper:
- They are homesick and overcome it so that they will know they can thrive outside of their parents’ shadows. This will be critical when they go to college.
- They have a heated dispute with a friend, are upset, and eventually find a resolution.
- Try something new and fail. And fail a few more times. And then succeed through perseverance.
- Try something and fail without an eventual triumph. We will not always win or succeed. Children should know that they can survive those situations, too.
I want counselors to be there to support our campers after these challenges, but not to prevent them from ever happening.
One of the odd gifts of camp is that it is fun and joyful enough to allow these growth moments to happen and still feel like a positive experience.
I once thought that the challenges (homesickness, cabin squabbles, struggles to learn a new skill) were the price you paid for the joys. As the cliché says, “No pain, no gain”. “Into every life, some rain must fall.”
But now I know that the pain IS the gain. These challenges and struggles are building capabilities and capacities in your child that will bear fruit later in life. When other 18 year-olds are suffering from homesickness as college Freshmen, your child will be there to comfort them. When a friend gets fired from a job or suffers from a break-up, your child will understand the disappointment and provide empathy. And when your child has his or her own troubles, they will know they have overcome issues in the past.
Here’s to strong children!