Imagine that it’s your first day of summer camp. You’re driving up the gravel road and past Falling Creek Falls, eager and anxious to find out what awaits. You arrive and meet your counselors and the other boys that you’ll be sharing a cabin with, and hug your parents goodbye as the session begins. However, looking around your new wooden home in the woods, you realize you’ve never actually been away from mom and dad. The anxious feelings quickly wear off though, as you realize that you’ve also never had so much choice or freedom. You could head down to the swim docks and go off the blob, ride the horses up at the barn, shoot at riflery, dominate the basketball courts, or sign up for a trip to climb, bike, paddle, and hike off property. The opportunities are seemingly endless, and for once there are no teachers or parents to plan your day out for you. It’s a whole session just for celebrating boys being boys.
A similar scene is relatable for many boys who come to camp every summer. It may be their first time sharing a cabin with other boys, or even their first time away from home. At first, it can seem daunting to come into a new community, figure out how to live together harmoniously, and even learn how to contribute to the community through daily cleaning and cabin responsibilities, all in an unfamiliar setting. However, the lessons learned through these experiences allow them to gain independence, responsibility, resiliency, and empowerment through the freedom and controlled risk they are allowed at camp. Beyond this, the camp experience also allows time for adventure and unstructured play, two aspects of a child’s life that seem to be slowly diminishing these days, replaced by schedules and strict supervision. Few other times of the year is a boy able to choose the activities they want to do all day, have time to just play, or sign up for overnight and multi day adventure trips in beautiful wilderness areas.
In an age where “helicopter parenting” is a legitimate phrase, environments that offer freedom, adventure, and controlled risk (such as camp), are even more crucial to development. Boys get the opportunity to try new things and learn skills they did not think possible at camp, especially if their setting at home is too urban to spend time outdoors, or their parents are overly hesitant to let them exercise freedom at home. Residential camp has been shown to improve community action, problem solving, empowerment, independence, and affinity for nature (footnote 1). Research also tells us that time in natural spaces encourages imaginative play, promotes concentration, motivation, and relieves stress (2). There can be a problem with youth spending too much time playing indoors and not enough time in exploratory outdoor play and challenge (3). Camp not only fills this need, but also provides a community setting for face to face peer interaction without the distraction of technology and social media that youth are often surrounded by at home.
Though every parent wants to ensure their boy’s safety, “overprotective” or “helicopter” parenting happens when youth are constantly shadowed or directed by the adults in their life. This allows minimal time for boys to gain independence or learn responsibility, especially when they would be capable of doing those tasks on their own. This so-called “helicopter parenting” has also shown increases in anxiety among youth, as well as decreases in their self confidence, even though it comes from a place of good-intentions as parents want to exercise caution (4). Just like anything, too much of a good thing becomes bad. Too much caution and direction can become stifling for boys. At times there is value and growth from being uncomfortable, and when boys can make their own plans and learn that things don’t always go their way, it teaches resilience. Constant direction also greatly restricts “free play,” or time where boys can enjoy unstructured play with peers, gaining communication skills, autonomy, and just having fun. Protecting boys from the perceived physical dangers of the outdoor world also harms them in deeper ways, by “protecting” the body but ignoring the soul.
As a well respected teacher and long time staff member at Falling Creek, Robert Kirby gives a unique perspective on the idea of the “overprotected child.” He has been awarded “teacher of the year” in Biology at Hendersonville High, and has served on the FCC staff for 25 years. Recently he sent us a story about one of his experiences at camp, and how it supported his idea that “FCC creates and fosters independence in its campers.”
In his words, “The situation takes place at the Indian Lore building just after first free period started. The other staff had already headed toward their free time duties, and the campers were off to free time, too. The lights were out, and I was finishing the clean-up before I left to go home. (I was only working in the mornings on Thursday and Friday) Outside near the creek I began to hear voices. I quietly walked out onto the porch overlooking the creek. What I saw seemed like 20 or so Cherokee and young Catawba campers swarming out of the woods down to the creek. They were beginning to race sticks down the creek to see who would win. Others were starting up a kick the can game. Carlos (one of the campers) said “nobody goes near the building. Stay out from underneath the building, and don’t mess with anything.” I watched for a second or two. Then, I cleared my throat. Loudly. All action stopped. They all looked at me, just waiting for me to tell them that they were not supposed to be there unsupervised. I looked at Carlos and said, “Carlos, you are in charge. You know this place and you know what can and can’t be done. If anything happens, you know what to do, right?” He smiled broadly and said “Yes sir. You can count on me. See you later, Kirby”. And with that, they went back to their games. Unsupervised. Just like my brother, my friends, and I used to do. It was a great feeling to know that kids still played, still pretended. That’s why Falling Creek creates successful adults.”
Though the intentions are good, we have to be aware of overzealous parenting going too far. Through the camp experience, we strive to keep boys’ sense of wonder and adventure alive by giving them wilderness trip opportunities and the ability to choose their own adventure. We nurture boys’ curiosity by allowing them to take appropriate risk in order to grow, and we encourage boys to push their comfort zones and find that they are capable of more. Camp helps partner with families to build these skills that are said to be lacking in youth today. In this new year, we resolve to continue fostering the sense of adventure that boys crave, allowing them to grow by pushing their comfort zones in a supportive and educational environment. We can’t wait to go on more adventures and spend more time just playing outside. Now that it’s 2019, we can finally say that we’re looking forward to this year at camp, and are already eager for the fun to resume. Happy New Year!
Author: Annie Pharr
|Footnotes and Further Reading:|
Brangham, W., & Kane, J. (2018, December 17). Why Helicopter Parenting may Jeopardize Kids’ Health. Retrieved from www.pbs.org/newshour/show/why-helicopter-parenting-may-jeopardize-kids-health
(1) Browne, L. P., Garst, B. A., & Bialeschki, M. D. (2011). “Engaging Youth in Environmental Sustainability: Impact of the Camp 2 Grow Program”. Journal Of Park & Recreation Administration, 29(3), 70-85.
(3) Hofferth, S. L., & Sandberg, J. F. (2001). “Changes in American Children’s Time,
1981-1997”. Advances in Life Course Research, 6, 193-229. doi:
(2) James, J. J., Bixler, R. D., & Vadala, C. (2010). “From Play in Nature, to Recreation then Vocation: A Developmental Model for Natural History-Oriented Environmental Professionals.” Children, Youth and Environments 20(1): 231-256. Retrieved February 12, 2018 from http://www.colorado.edu/journals/cye.
(4) Petersen, A. (2018, June 01). “The Overprotected American Child”. Retrieved from https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-overprotected-american-child-1527865038