March 31, 2023
It has become widely acknowledged that young people are facing a range of mental health challenges in 2023.
For at least the last 10 years, negative psychological health outcomes (anxiety, loneliness, depression, suicide) have been on the rise.
This problem has been frustratingly persistent, but we are starting to understand that summer camps are well-positioned to be a part of the solution!
There seem to be strong arguments for at least three causes of this trend:
There are surely other factors as well, but these three seem likely to be among the most significant.
One of the best reasons to work at a camp over the summer is to help create an experience that promotes the mental, physical, and emotional health of children. Summer camp staff have even said it was a great experience for their own mental health!
Let’s take a look at each of the causes we mentioned and see how a great camp experience can help:
A critical mass of evidence has begun to show that social media use caused an increase in teen mental health outcomes starting around 2012. This is a difficult problem to know how to solve, but it is probably one of the most important challenges facing young people today.
Overnight summer camp is one of the best experiences to help students take a break from their phones and social media. Camp is one of the few places where young people can be screen-free and happy about it. We have even had teenagers express gratitude for the chance to take a break from their phones at camp.
Most camps create a tech-free environment, which allows campers to make face-to-face connections, play outside, and practice in-person communication skills. Parents love it, too, because they know that their children are engaged in healthy activities and getting a break from their phones.
A second area in which camps can contribute to the mental well-being of young people is providing an alternative to a two-sided problem that many students are experiencing in school: (1) pressure to achieve on one hand, and (2) boredom and disengagement on the other.
In a March 2023 article titled “We’re Missing a Key Driver of Teen Anxiety”, Derek Thompson of the Atlantic argued that “a culture of obsessive student achievement” and unnecessarily long school and study hours is making kids feel anxious and depressed. In contrast, schools may have a bigger issue with boredom and disengagement. Many schools see students who struggle with both.
Fortunately, summer camp can be a solution to both sides of this challenge! Camp is often an enriching break from school stress, and an engaging environment for students who are checked out at school. Campers get to spend a few weeks in a low-pressure environment that still challenges them in age-appropriate ways.
A third way that summer camps promote youth mental health is by providing children with environments in which they can engage in free play and reasonable risk-taking.
In an article in his After Babel substack, Jonathan Haidt writes, “I believe that the loss of free play and self-supervised risk-taking has blocked the development of a healthy, normal, internal locus of control.”
“Internal locus of control” is a bit of a mouthful, but it basically means a belief that we have some control over the things that happen in our lives. “Agency” is another good word that is often used in a similar way. People with an internal locus of control are much less likely to experience depression and anxiety, among other negative psychological health outcomes.
Long story short - even if helicopter parents are preventing kids from developing agency via free play, camp is the perfect place to catch up. There is a ton of free play and reasonable risk-taking at camp. Heck, “reasonable risks” is even one of our 4 R’s!
Okay, so basically camps rock. We provide tech-free, low-pressure, engaging environments in which campers can practice free play and reasonable risk-taking.
It’s not that going to camp is easy - camps of all kinds challenge campers to expand their comfort zones by trying new activities, making new friends, and potentially staying away from home. The main point here is that the ways that camps challenge children seem to be perfectly suited to promote the well-being of kids in 2023.
If this is something that you’d be interested to be a part of, let us know!