Q: Our 11-year-old son wants to go to sleepaway camp this summer. I am from Israel, my husband of 14 years is American, and we have different opinions on this topic.
My husband is very stubborn and has a hard time listening to anyone else’s opinion. He feels that going to camp would be very good for our son, who is an only child and needs to better learn how to get along with boys his age. (I also think that my husband would like the peace and quiet of not having our son around!) I was brought up in Israel, where 11-year-old boys don’t go to sleepaway camp — and many boys don’t go at any age. I hear about what goes on in these places and I’m afraid of the lack of supervision and the bad things that boys can learn from others.
It is true that my son is too self-absorbed, always wants to win, to be the first in line and has a hard time compromising (like his father). It would probably be good for him to live with other children in order to learn how to improve in these areas. He gets very angry when he doesn’t get what he wants, and doesn’t see the part he plays in fights with his friends. I guess this is what happens when you don’t have brothers and sisters at home. He has continual arguments on the school bus, so I’m a little worried about how he will manage to get along with boys all day in camp. His rebbi told me that he gets on well with the boys in his class — even at recess time, when there is no one really on top of them.
What’s your opinion about going to camp at this age?
A: It is often difficult to know when a child is ready to go to sleepaway camp. The culture in America differs from that in Israel, where the school year lasts longer and the summer break is shorter. Israel’s size and geography make it easier to leave an urban area faster — one can go hiking within a half hour of almost any location. For many urban dwellers in the United States, “the country” can be two (or more) hours away, and summer in the city is not conducive to a ruchniyusdig lifestyle. This is the reason many parents opt to send their children to sleepaway camp at an earlier age than you might expect.
Some camps help ignite a strong ruach that inspires children throughout the upcoming school year. In certain families, where problematic domestic issues exist, being away from home constitutes living in a less stressful environment, and a child from such a background would greatly appreciate this.
On the other hand, certain 11-year-olds can get very homesick and are not ready to navigate a social environment with peers 24/7. If your son’s rebbi and teacher seem perceptive, ask them what they think about your son going to sleepaway camp.
Fights on school buses often occur when there is no bus monitor to help redirect students’ squabbles. If your son is able to manage well during a “less supervised” recess, his socialization abilities might be better than you realize.
In regard to sleepaway camp being sufficiently supervised, you need to check with other concerned parents whose children previously attended the camp you are considering. Try to find out which counselors will be working there and request a bunk headed by the more responsible ones. Inquire about the camp’s rules regarding phone calls, and explain your desire to speak to your young son so you can better monitor what is occurring at camp.
Hatzlachah — for whatever age you decide to send your son to sleepaway camp!