Last night, my 16-year-old son told me that he hates nature because it’s so boring. This was in response to my telling him that we were going on a hike to a waterfall this Saturday, whether he wanted to or not.
I know I shouldn’t let what he said bother me. After all, isn’t the very purpose of being a teenager to reject all things beloved by your parents? But I must admit, I’m not that tough or analytical when it comes to my son, and hearing him call nature “boring” broke my heart a tiny bit.
I finally forced him to admit that Yosemite – where we camped for a week last summer – wasn’t boring. He reluctantly agreed that yes, Yosemite was OK.
My husband and I love camping and being out in nature. We both find great joy and respite in it. To that end, our major summer vacation usually involves camping, often somewhere remote, but always with opportunities for swimming, fishing and nightly campfires.
I think my son wishes he’d been born into a family that liked a different type of vacation, one with posh hotels on sugary beaches. But, alas, he’s stuck with us.
Maybe part of the problem is I never sent him away to sleepaway camp on his own.
The first overnight camps for boys sprouted up in North America in the 1880s with the idea that kids needed to get back to nature and away from the ills and evils of modern life in the city. It turns out that as early as the 19th century, parents were fretting that their kids weren’t spending enough time outdoors. Learning this made me realize once again that parents have been worrying about the same types of issues for a very very long time.
The original idea of camp was that roughing it would help build character and that reconnecting with nature was good for the soul. To this end, the first camps were simple outposts in the woods next to lakes.
Then, in 1904, the book “Adolescence” by psychologist G. Stanley Hall validated the worthiness of the summer camp experience, arguing that a child should spend time “in this wild undomesticated stage from which modern conditions have kidnapped him.” In other words: Nature was good for kids. Hall believed that child development imitates the formation of civilized society. Therefore, he thought it was important that children learn to build fires and shelters in an attempt to recreate the experience of being pre-civilized people.
There isn’t a clear link between Hall’s book and the rise of summer camps, but in 1900 there were fewer than 100 camps in the U.S., and by 1918, there were more than 1,000. And parents do like psychological validation, so it’s likely the book’s camp stamp of approval had an impact.
As you may have noticed, camps have changed quite a bit since then. There are still traditional camps in the woods by lakes where kids learn basic camping skills, but there are also more frills than there once were. Early on in the 1900s, camps were already beginning to feature such non-nature-related amenities as movies, radio and tennis lessons.
Fast-forward to today, when you can find a camp that offers just about any activity your child can imagine, from fashion design, to computer coding to rock climbing. (In fact, this issue features many local camps your kids will likely love, as does the camp directory on ocfamily.com.)
And this variety of choices is a good thing. You can try to force nature on your kid, but that may not foster a love of it. So why not let him try something different? You can still compel him to go on a free weekend hike, then put your money toward something he actually likes to do.
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