Rabbi Ross. A few weeks ago, I read your article about kids not going to camp. I have the opposite problem. My kids are all in sleepaway, and I’m quite nervous. Many of these camps tout their amazing learning programs, but when push comes to shove, they don’t learn very much. Davening seems amazing on the camp videos, but my kids tell me it’s a joke. I feel like such a bad mother that I’m sending my son to a camp where the environment is not suitable for a Ben Torah. Who knows what else he’s picking up! I would love to send them to a more Frum camp, but none of his friends are going, and I want him to be with friends. Help. Name Redacted. Cleveland Ohio
Surprisingly enough, I’ve received many similar emails over the past few weeks. I’m actually quite confused by this email and the others like it.
Firstly, if you truly believe that the camp you’re sending them to is not a good environment for a Ben Torah, why would you send your child there for the summer? If you are nervous about your son picking up the wrong messages, you can send him to a more “Frum” camp, as you wrote. Perhaps when you wrote “Frum,” you are referring to a more structured camp, which is more serious about davening and learning. Either way, you can certainly try and find one other boy from the neighborhood, or perhaps his school, going to such a camp, and chances are that he’ll make new friends as well.
You might be correct in assuming that the learning groups are probably not that serious. I’ve been to many of the sleepaway camps over the years as a learning Rebbe, counselor, speaker or guest. I agree that there is definitely a lot of story time and less serious learning. However, during the summer, many kids look forward to and appreciate having more down time and less structure. (As an aside, some kids need this in order to recharge their batteries after a year of hard work and learning.) Most camps try their best to make the most of the learning time and show that, even during the summer, it’s important to set aside time to learn Torah. If you really care that much about having him learn more seriously or for longer amounts of time, why don’t you have him tutored on the side?
Last year, I saw a mother having a serious discussion with her son’s counselor about his Davening in camp. His father told me privately that this same boy plays around the entire Davening on Shabbos. Of course, being the quiet type, I confronted the mother. She explained, “I want people to realize that our family davens well.” There we have it. It’s not about the davening; it’s about the family. As a Rebbe and a father, I do think Davening is very important. However, if you lead by example at home, your kids will likely daven well in camp.
I remember when parents were worried about sending kids to sleepaway camps because their boys would only shower once a week (hopefully), wouldn’t brush their teeth (of course not), and rarely change their clothing (why would they?)! Yes, your kids will learn some things that you might not be thrilled about, but they’re not living under a rock.
Before they leave to camp, you should have a serious talk with them. You can talk about the importance of personal boundaries, remind them of how special and important davening and learning are, regardless of whether at home or camp, and the importance of good hygiene. When they come back, you can discuss everything and “detox” them if needed.
The most important element of camp, from a parent’s perspective, should be the counselor. Sure, it’s nice for a boy to have a good friend in his bunk, but his counselor is the father and mother figure for the summer. If you have any fears or concerns, you can share them with the counselor, via the head staff, and hope for the best.
I hope I’m not coming across as non-caring. It’s just that I think that parents these days are rapidly becoming helicopter parents hovering constantly above their children. We need to let kids be kids. When we were younger we used to hear and talk about crazy things, and yet we turned out OK. My point is, we need to let them grow up by maturing the same way we did.
Have a good Shabbos.
On a totally separate note, beginning next week I will be writing a multi-part article about children going “Off the Derech”. I have spoken with so many parents and children on this topic. However, if anyone feels they have anything to share, please email me at Rebbe@yidparenting.com, as soon as you can. Thank you in advance.
Rabbi Yitzie Ross is a Rebbe and has been working with parents and kids for many years. You can read more about him in the "about" section.