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Assistant camp director “Mander” Karen Malm was invited to submit an article to the New Canaan and Greenwich Sentinel’s 2024 Camp Guide, and we think it does a terrific job describing how summer camp can be an antidote to the challenges facing today’s children and adolescents, so we have reprinted it here.

With children and adolescents battling anxiety and depression at a rate never seen before, parents and educators are searching desperately for ways to keep kids healthy and safe. Among their best strategies are spending time outdoors and making friends; getting off devices and avoiding social media; and being physically active. Summer camp, especially a multi-week, overnight experience, is a great place to do all of these. And though it can be difficult at home to break out of old habits and routines, children often thrive at summer camp. In a new environment – and a digital detox – children connect with nature, find confidence and resilience, and recharge their mental batteries.

An August 2020 Massachusetts General Hospital study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry identified social connection as the strongest protective factor for depression1. Summer camp provides a unique environment for children to cultivate essential interpersonal skills. Campers are immersed in a diverse community where they share cabins, meals, and activities with peers from various backgrounds, ages, cultures, and perspectives. This exposure fosters empathy, understanding, and appreciation for differences. As they navigate this environment of varied personalities, they learn to adapt, communicate, and collaborate effectively. Through engagement in collective adventures—from hiking trips to late-night campfires, bonds and memories develop that transcend ordinary friendships. Whether conquering a ropes course or performing a cabin skit, they learn to rely on one another, celebrate victories, and support each other during challenges. These skills extend far beyond camp life, enriching their social interactions in school, family, and beyond.

Summer camp serves as a powerful arena for nurturing resilience and confidence in young people. At camp, children encounter new challenges, like sleeping under the stars or attempting a new water sport. These experiences encourage campers to step out of their comfort zones. When they take calculated risks and sometimes face setbacks, they learn that failure is a steppingstone, not an obstacle. The supportive environment allows them to dust themselves off, learn from mistakes, and try again. This resilience becomes a life skill that helps kids overcome challenges in school, relationships, and future endeavors.

“Mander” Karen Malm is an Assistant Director and has been with Agawam for 29 years, first joining the summer staff in 1995.

Camp provides a unique opportunity for children to survive without parental safety nets. Away from home, they learn to make decisions, manage their time, and solve problems independently. This newfound autonomy boosts their self-confidence and prepares them for life beyond camp. A summer at camp provides a refreshing escape from the digital noise and constant connectivity of our modern lives. At camp, children step away from technology and immerse themselves in nature. There is time to notice the cries of the loons, the scent of pine, and the lapping of waves. This direct communion with the natural world has a profound impact on mental health, reducing anxiety and fostering a sense of wonder and grounding. Without constant notifications or virtual comparisons, campers learn to be present in the moment, allowing their minds to recharge. They trade screens for face-to-face conversations. The absence of screens and distractions promotes mindfulness and allows campers to forge genuine connections.

Summer camp is a transformative experience that shapes children in profound ways. It allows for growth in interpersonal skills, where campers learn to communicate, collaborate, and appreciate diversity. Through shared adventures and calculated risks, campers build resilience; learning that perseverance, not praise, is the achievement. Moreover, camp provides a screen-free environment, allowing kids to connect with nature, reduce anxiety, and recharge their mental health. Many residential summer camps are multi-year allowing lessons learned to be internalized and transferable to situations and experiences in the months outside of camp. Summer camp isn’t just about fun; it equips children with essential life skills, confidence, and a deeper appreciation for the world around them and in today’s climate, that is more important than ever.

1 Title: Social Connections Key to Maintaining Mental Well-being
Source: Psychiatry.org
Date Published: August 31, 2020
URLPsychiatry.org – Social Connections Key to Maintaining Mental Well-being