It's okay to leave your friends at home

Don’t miss out on a prime benefit of going to camp – making new friends

Being home alone did not work out so well for Macaulay Culkin. He should have gone to camp alone instead.

One of the greatest benefits of the camp experience is the opportunity for a child to make lasting friendships in a new and different environment.

For children to take advantage, it is best if camp is not a gathering of friends from home, sharing the same cabins and choosing the same schedules.

Going to camp with friends can prevent a child from fully acclimating to camp life and inclusion in the camp community. We’ve seen many examples of children attending camp together. The group offers protection and cover, of a sort, to that membership. The group is collectively “self-conscious,” often presenting themselves as a singular entity. They succeed or fail as a unit.

When choosing activities, a new camper in this situation can feel pressured to stay within the group or to follow the group’s dominant personality. These campers are much less likely to get to do the activities that they want to do, or the ones that will offer the most benefit to them individually.

Some parents prefer a bunk arrangement with friends from home, as it affords their child an insurance plan against the most feared outcome: exclusion. But while those first few hours at camp may be easier, the camper is deprived of many prime growth opportunities – making new friends on their own, being “discovered” by others and forging a fresh identity.

The camper who jumps into the community independently will have a better experience. It is important that parents help their children work to get past this normal anxiety and trust the camp to do what it does best, which is working campers into the full community culture.

We offer this advice to those who have come to camp with friends from home: Just go to an activity by yourself and ask to join. Camp cultures are accepting and this suggestion will work anywhere. The new camper is not only invited, but welcomed.

When the camper branches out on their own, they are the sole beneficiary of that rush of excitement that comes with such a success. Perhaps it is a game and their team loses a close contest. They share the experience with new friends and, early in the summer, which is better for their social development and self-confidence than winning the game with pals from home.

For those who wish to go to camp with friends they should acknowledge that seeking and cementing new friendships is a core value of camp. Good camps have protocols in place to see that this happens. Directors and leadership, including group and cabin staff, manage groups to balance the needs and desires of all participants with fun and growth in mind. When a few friends end up in the same cabin (many camps allow requests) the cabin counselors will manage group development and social interactions, especially early on in the session.

On a logistical level, additional guidance is given through bunk bed assignments and mealtime table selection assuring new and diverse interactions.

Program directors offer several enticing options to specific age groups during the same timeframe, which can alleviate the hometown effect. And directors themselves have eyes out for budding cliques. Many camp directors take pleasure in promoting new friendships whenever the opportunity presents, especially early in the session when kids may still be nervous about their prospects.

Counselors are always on the lookout for new campers and know it is their job to bring them together in a friendly, welcoming fashion.

Campers who go to camp alone are more likely to notice and be open to the subtle signals of these opportunities to join the fun and make new friends. These are the moments when not being with friends from home can give a child a real leg up in their quest for making new friends.   

Bob and Rob Wipfler are father/son co-directors of ACA-accredited Kingswood Camp for Boys in Piermont.

More articles you might be interested in

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Getting Generation Z to disconnect so they can connect

Analog kids learn to relate face-to-face in the real world

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