A recent text from the mom of 17-year-old Briggs and his 16-year-old brother Robert spoke volumes about the difficulty many young people departing summer camp have in handling the switch to home and school. It simply said, “The boys are so sad, I may need to send them back!”
In a 2012 feature article in Camping Magazine, “Unpacking Summer – Camp’s Lease Hath All Too Short a Date,” I outlined some of the challenges of change.
“After the last marshmallow has roasted, the last sunset has sunk, and the last tear has dried, the aftermath of a summer at camp often reveals itself in, well, less than expected ways. Sure, there’s the ‘afterglow’ of positive memories: friends, achievements, and awards. But there may be something else – a pervasive sense of loss that may surprise even the most empathic campers and mystify their unsuspecting parents, who don’t always understand the degree of difficulty in transitioning back to life at home. No more sand in the sheets, spiders in the sink, or showers to share … what could be so bad?
“No more sand in the sheets, spiders in the sink, or showers to share. And no more round-the-clock roommates to make it all such fun!”
And it’s not just the parents who notice. Sometimes it’s their counselors as well. In a piece posted on Camp Counselor Life, “Post Camp Depression Is REAL! Here’s How to Deal,” a camp staffer referred to this period (shorthanded to PCD) as “dreadful, the inevitable, the ugly, the very real.” That counselor’s advice?
- Keep a box full of ideas for next summer! Games, activities, crafts, stock up on friendship bracelet string, cards, and other goodies!
- Skype your camp fam! This is great for internationals! Don’t have a webcam? Buy one! You won’t regret it!
- Connect with other lonely camp counselors! Use my blog to talk to me or my Twitter is full of wonderful people who are going through the same thing! @_CampCounselor
- Start a camp countdown! I have one on my desk so I can physically cross off the days til the next glorious summer! 230 days!
But is it all just hyper-emotional hyperbole? Not according to the campers I referenced a few years back.
Charlie, 16, stated, “Missing camp is one thing that really makes my life difficult. Being restrained from the thing I love most is nearly impossible to bear for almost a year. There are little things you can do to try to diminish these feelings, like talking to or hanging out with your camp friends, or even looking at Facebook pictures, but camp sickness truly is an ailment that only has one cure: camp.”
Fourteen-year-old Delilah said, “Leaving camp is one of the hardest things about going … Those last moments when you have to say goodbye to your ‘brothers and sisters’ is a very difficult thing. It makes you realize just how special camp is to you and just how close you are to the friends that you’ve made.”
Jeremy, 15, added, “When camp ends, all of the friendships that were made at camp remain … but it is very hard for campers to make a transition between always being with their friends and living at home again.”
Jenna, also 15, found it important to give it time and take it slow: “Don’t pretend that camp never happened. If you immediately jump right back into your routine at home as if you’ve never left, it becomes a bit tiring. I find it important to catch up on sleep and tell stories about camp to your family. If you do things like that instead of jumping straight into preparing for school, it helps you feel as if the summer didn’t rush past you quite as fast.”
Jeremy compared notes with his camp friends and discovered their strategies differed: “Upon discussing this with my cabin mates near the end of this summer, it was clear that everyone had their own methods, some of which included playing video games, staying in contact to a large extent for a few days, hanging out a lot with non-camp friends, going to other camps, or just having to go straight to school.”
Joe, 14, reflected, “Camp friends are a special breed of friends. One of the main reasons is that you only get to see them once a year. The product of this short period of time is an awesome party filled with many memorable events. But the worst part about camp friends is that at the end of the summer you have to say goodbye, which is the worst feeling ever.”
But maybe they don’t.
The very same technology we wrestle away from young people as they embark on their summer camp experience – to good effect as reported by NPR’s award-winning journalist Tovia Smith in her August 11, 2016, piece “Summer Camps Struggle to Enforce Bans on Screen Time” – might very well be a salve for the wounds of separation.
Sixteen-year-old Sara describes the end of camp as “always a sad time but also an important one to reflect on how camp has allowed you to grow.” She says she uses text messages, Facetime, and Skype to keep in touch with her camp friends.
Fifteen-year-old Jack, who “dreads” the moment when his parents arrive at camp for pickup, adds Snapchat and Instagram to the ways he stays connected with his pals, stating, “It helps quiet the reality that you’re living apart from your best friends.”
And Luke, also 16, says that his cellphone and laptop “allow me to not have to really say goodbye.”
Reprinted in part from an article in the January/February 2012 edition of Camping Magazine, by permission of the American Camp Association; copyright 2012 by the American Camping Association, Inc.