By Mallika Chopra
Summer is past the midway point for many of us, and I can admit I am happily anticipating a return to school in a month. Don’t get me wrong, I love spending time with my kids. But entertaining them for 2 1/2 months is not so easy.
In fact, I’ve had quite a few conversations lately with parents about what to do with kids over the summer.
Our friend circle is has the whole range of activities – many kids have gone to sleep away camp, some are studying, others are doing sports camp and Junior Lifeguard training (we live in Santa Monica by the beach!), and then there are the art, drama, science, cooking camps. You name the activity and there is something for the kids to do!
The NY Times has a great editorial series/debate on “Should Kids Go To Sleepaway Camp?” that presents a variety of opinions on what kids should be doing over summer. The range of opinions includes:
“Yes, it is a great way to build confidence and independence.”
“No, kids need to just relax and learn to entertain themselves.”
“Actually, kids need year round school.”
I found the opinions in these editorials thought-provoking. One editorial, in particular, challenged my parenting philosophy. Michael Thompson says:
Parents assume that their presence always adds value to a child’s growth. I disagree. I think parents can sometimes seriously impede their children’s development.
As a parent there are many things you cannot do for you children. You cannot give your child confidence, you cannot pick or manage his or her friendships, you cannot always be his or her advocate/agent/manager/coach. Most parents cannot get their children to turn off electronics, especially in the summer, and most important, parents have a hard time urging their children to take psychological risks.
I couldn’t disagree more. I strongly believe parents build our children’s confidence and should mentor their kids through the difficult times. Parents need to be responsible to make sure their kids get off the electronics, not shift the responsibility to someone else!
Many of my daughter’s friends are away for 2-4 weeks away at sleepaway camp this summer. And, most of their parents are some of the most conscious parents I know who are guiding their children every day to be more confident, adding value to their children’s growth. (Again, I disagree with Mr. Thompson’s statement above.) My friends rationale for sending their kids to camp includes:
“They have the most amazing time. They love it and always want to return.”
“They make deep friendships that last a lifetime.”
“Its great. They learn to be independent.”
Many of these parents went to summer camp when they were young and are excited for their kids to experience the magic they did.
While I respect their reasons, what unnerves me is that at many of the summer camps, the parents can’t speak with their children. The parents can email and write to their kids, and the children can write letters, but it’s not immediate communication like a text message, call, or email. So when the kids express stress or loneliness, my friends are struggling to stay strong. I understand the rationale that the kids are most vulnerable when they connect with their parents so the limited communication diminishes homesickness. But, I can’t overcome my feeling that a child should always have the security that they can turn to their parents for support.
I realize the notion of “independence” at such a young age doesn’t really resonate with my upbringing. Independence is not a core value for my Indian family. (As I point out to some of my friends, many of our friends in India live in joint families with their parents, siblings, and their families! Leaving home and being independent isn’t necessarily what culturally we set out to teach our children from an early age.)
When I was 16 years old, I spent a summer in the Dominican Republic working for Amigos De Las Americas – a Peace Corps of sorts for teenagers. I clearly remember fighting with my parents about going – they thought I was too young to be away home. They ultimately agreed, and it was my first taste of independence. The year after, I spent a summer in Cambridge, England – an ocean away from my parents in Boston. Those two summers were transformative for me. But I was 16 years old, not 9.
One of the editorials in the NY Times argues for continued education in the summer. And admittedly, my kids have a continued math and English program this summer, along with a series of science/robotics camps for my younger daughter, Leela. (Tara has done a theater program.) On the summer activities spectrum, I am a combination of continued education and relaxation!
Last but not least, I am a big believer in travel as the best education and my husband and I try to expose our kids to different parts of the world whenever we can. And, while I realize not everyone can travel to the extent that we do, I was inspired by my friend, who decided to discover LA, our own city, with her kids this summer. They hiked, went to museums, spent time on the beach, ate different ethnic foods, and visited different parts of the city. There is so much to learn where each of us live, and summer can be a great time to do that.
As parents we intuitively know that each of our children are unique, and what may be right for one child may not be right for another. That said, I find opinions on summer activities come with strong points of view. I’m curious, what do you think kids should be doing over the summer?