Encouraging Independence So Children Can Thrive (aka Bringing Helicopter Parents in for a Safe Landing)
Steering Children Toward Healthy Risks
Children need to develop a sense of independence to successfully navigate an increasingly complex world. As parents and youth professionals, we need to give them space to grow. But how to do that, given societal pressure on parents to obsess about perceived safety? How do we help parents overcome the pervasive culture of fear so that they can feel comfortable allowing children the opportunities to take on new situations? How do we facilitate children’s growth, via mindful risk-taking, to evolve into competent, independent adults?
What we need to do—instead of sheltering them under the guise of protecting them—is to facilitate meaningful opportunities to challenge themselves—by themselves—so that they can thrive. Instead of at times being overprotective and trying to shelter and “protect” them from experiencing life on their own, we need to steer them toward healthy risks.
Parents Can Overcome the Culture of Fear and Learn to Let Go
A parent recently acknowledged to me that she can’t be everywhere—although she tries. She wanted to know that—for her child’s weeks at camp this summer—the child would be safe. Although this is a fair concern, I also needed to delve beyond the surface meaning of her statement—needing to communicate to her: (1) that she may be limiting her child by restricting the child’s independent growth; and (2) that there can never be an absolute guarantee of safety. The only way to guarantee “safety,” is to never leave the house (and even houses can be fraught with hidden dangers…I’ve seen that too on a local news report…). But beyond the surface, I’m unsure that safety concerns were really the issue. It can often be more of a question of the parent not being ready to let go. To facilitate a positive camp experience, it can be a question of analyzing and addressing the parent’s readiness separately from the child’s readiness.
Maximizing Camper Care
So what did I say to that parent to help her become more comfortable? What could help get past her nebulous concerns and instead empower her with concrete information to be comfortable sending her child to thrive independently? I told her that our camp program is a culmination of a dream twenty years in the making. I told her that, as a mindful camp director, caring for others’ children is even more of a responsibility than caring for our own well-loved, intentionally-raised child.
I told her that there can be no absolute guarantee of safety. I’m always wary of programs that say they are 100% guaranteed safe…there can realistically be no such thing! If you’re claiming to be 100% safe, you’re probably raising a child like the boy in the bubble from that old movie-—we don’t want to shield young people from perceived dangers to the point that we stunt their emotional and physical growth. Instead, what we can do is train, practice, be mindful, and help our campers navigate managed, careful risks.
Augmenting emotional safety
What we do at our intentionally empowering girls-only camp and boys-only camp is institute systems where the emotional safety of our campers and staff can be safeguarded. Camper behavior is guided by skilled, trained counselors so that positive interactions are maximized. Counselor behavior is guided by skilled, trained administrators supervising staff culled from the top 5-10% of applicants. Community behavior is guided by Kupugani camp culture norms that have been intentionally-devised and reinforced over years of practice, evolving into a culture where it’s cool to be kind and mindful of others. At camp it’s cool to be kind instead of what can sometimes happens in certain youth-serving entities where it’s sometimes “cool” to be mean or hurtful.
Enhancing physical safety
What we do at our intentionally empowering girls-only camp and boys-only camp is institute systems where the physical safety of our campers and staff is safeguarded. Camper well-being is maximized by the camp topography and live-in counselors. Staff behavior is maximized by our selective hiring process, offering positions to only those truly committed to being a teacher, counselor, mentor, protector and friend to our campers. Prospective staff members undergo a rigorous screening and interview process to make sure that we hire only the best, most qualified individuals to be a part of our camp family. Staff members are CPR and First Aid certified. Beyond background checks, our camp culture of always observing a “rule of three” provides an institutional practice that helps to prevent our camp from being one of those schools, churches, or other youth-serving organization often in the headlines for bad behavior being perpetrated by creepy adults.
Observing Best Practices
What we do at our intentionally empowering girls-only camp and boys-only camp is observe a system of all around best practices. There’s licensure by the state to operate as a campground and as a food service facility (and to operate a swimming pool). The strongest indicator of what we do is our accreditation by the American Camp Association (ACA). ACA Accreditation means that we regularly submit to a thorough (over 300 standards) review of our operations—from staff qualifications and training to emergency management. The ACA collaborates with experts from The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Red Cross, and other youth service agencies to assure that current practices at the camp reflect the most up-to-date, research-based standards in camp operation. We and the ACA form a partnership that promotes summers of growth and fun in an environment committed to safety.
Relaxed Parent Equals Empowered Child
Hopefully, my answers have helped the parent make an informed decision to help her trust the trained, professional adults working with her child. Hopefully, she has sufficient information so that she can take comfort that her child is in good hands and on her way to experiencing the empowerment, independence and growth that an intentional camp experience can provide. Her child can thrive while her mom’s helicopter is guided in for a safe landing!
(Here’s a link to another, related perspective on the topic of given children room to explore and become able to adapt to new environments on their own.)