The pandemic has taken a toll on children’s mental health. Summer camp will help
While there are many wonderful physical benefits of summer camp, the most important benefits are linked to a child’s mental health. In providing the perfect environment to forge lifelong friendships, face challenges, grow emotionally and take a much-needed break from screens, summer camp checks all the necessary boxes for our campers’ social-emotional well-being. And after this long stretch of socially distanced living, experts agree that the mental health benefits of summer camp are more critical than ever.
Catherine Steiner-Adair is a child psychologist we have called upon in the past when working through camp challenges. In talking to her about how summer camps will help children catch up emotionally after a mentally trying year, she reiterated how camp helps kids even during “normal” times.
“As a species, we are viscerally wired to connect to people in real life, face to face,” said Steiner-Adair. “Our capacity to read social cues develops through practice in person.”
Camp provides the perfect environment to practice these skills that kids need to connect and thrive, particularly at a time when the pandemic and technology have quashed so many in-person interactions. “While connecting over Zoom has been a life saver during the pandemic, it doesn’t allow kids to read body language and the nuance of facial expressions in the same way,” said Steiner-Adair.
Summer 2021 at camp will give kids a chance to catch up on all the face-to-face time they have missed—and reintroduce the skills they need to navigate life’s ups and downs. “One of the best things camp does is offer kids 24 hours of no escape—they can’t turn their screen off, shut down their tile, or block a friend which forces, in the best possible way, kids to navigate not only the wonderful aspects of the deep friendships that they can only develop at camp, but also to have to hang in there when the going gets tough,” continued Steiner-Adair. “There are so many ways through technology where kids can ghost and avoid challenging conversations, avoid conflict, and avoid apologizing. Camp historically has been a deep skill building training ground for developing social emotional intelligence. While many children have been able to maintain their academic learning, experts are concerned about the impact of Covid on children’s social and emotional well-being and development and that’s where camp will have a huge impact this summer.”
In addition to helping kids grow socially and emotionally, summer camp will also help kids who have suffered from depression and other adverse mental health effects of the pandemic. Christopher Thurber, the school psychologist at Phillips Exeter academy since 1999, is often consulted by camp directors for his expertise, and echoes the finding that the isolation and unpredictability of the pandemic has increased anxiety and depression in children and adolescents.
“Without warning, the coronavirus careened us into a severe social drought. And because positive youth development depends primarily on healthy relationships with peers and mentors, this isolation has affected children and adolescents the most. Depression, anxiety, and loneliness have all increased since March, not to mention the stagnation of social skills. As a parent and psychologist, I know that a vaccine will physically protect our kids, but the social-emotional antidote to this pandemic is summer camp.”
For returning campers who spent this past summer at home, knowing that camp will return in 2021 has been a light at the end of the tunnel. “My wife and I have watched our kids do their best to cope with the excessive screen time, sedentary routine, and boredom of the past 10 months. And there’s more to come. But one thing has fueled their perseverance; one thing has helped them endure 2020: the promise of returning to summer camp in 2021.”
We’re excited to give all our campers, new and old, the mental boost they need and the social time they’ve missed this coming summer at Camp Walt Whitman.