Where the Real Friendships Are

How many Facebook “friends” do you have? And how many of them are also your “real” friends? Of those, how many do you actually see or talk to regularly? It’s a strange modern American phenomenon that paradoxically, we have loads of these kinds of casual contacts, acquaintances and virtual relationships, but also often feel profoundly on our own. As we spend more of our time plugged into the virtual world of the Internet (a rather solitary activity, after all), as we are encouraged to be uniquely independent and value our “freedom,” and as we are increasingly “on the move” to pursue professional, financial or lifestyle “opportunities,” we seem to have been quick to sacrifice real friendships.

I suspect, also, that children aren’t entirely immune to this phenomenon. They too, though perhaps less so than adults, struggle with being overly busy, with spending a lot of their time alone or online, and with having fewer opportunities to meet new people and share common rewarding experiences. The ordinary lives of children today are generally less suited to building a strong network of close, true friends. This is worrisome, especially when you consider that the forces behind this trend will only get stronger as our children grow older and take on greater responsibilities.

But thankfully, there is camp–that magical place where kids get to relax a bit, take a break from the pressures of school and try some new things just for the fun of it. It’s a place to meet new people and share wonderful experiences. Camp gets them outside, away from the buzz and flicker of electronic media, and allows children to explore who they are and be their authentic selves. All of these elements come together to create the ideal setting to develop real friendships and to connect with others in meaningful ways. Many BT girls feel that camp is where their real friends are.

Going to summer camp is a long-held tradition in some families, and a brand new activity in others. At camp kids learn new skills, try different activities, gain independence, enjoy the outdoors, play games, and–best of all–make friendships that will last a lifetime. In fact, according to the American Camping Association’s study on the value of camp, the number one reason that campers come back to a camp again and again is friendship. As experienced camp leaders, we know that camp friendships can help banish homesickness, promote independence and confidence, and provide lasting camp memories that will serve your daughters well into adulthood.

So what makes camp friendships so different from those at home? At Birch Trail, campers enjoy a much-needed break from the stress that often accompanies school environments; we believe that the academic and social pressures which are part of our children’s lives need to be relieved occasionally. Birch Trail satisfies that need with a happy, nurturing, relaxed, but well-structured experience.

More and more research is showing that children achieve and learn better in single sex environments, and this seems to be especially true for girls, who are under more pressure than ever to look or act a certain way. Without boys or the social hierarchies of school life in the picture, BT campers very quickly learn how to relax and truly enjoy the pleasures of dressing up in silly costumes, dancing and lip-synching to crazy songs, and going for long walks or bike rides in the woods. When things like technology, popularity, and fashion are not a factor, campers can learn to make friendships based on the things that really matter like their personalities, values, and senses of humor.

Girls have freedom at camp to be as silly as they want to, knowing that they are in a place where no one will judge them for how they act. Through the cabin groups, events, and all-camp programs, campers have the opportunity and support they need to create friendships based on who each girl truly is at her core. Camp friends tend to become lifelong friends because those relationships are grounded in the stuff that really matters. Everyone here bears this in mind, and the general vibe around camp this time of year makes it pretty easy to relax, be yourself, and have a good time.

Campers at BT have a lot of practice in developing strong bonds with their peers and then maintaining those bonds throughout the winter months. Of course, BT girls keep in touch via smorecamp.com, facebook, and other social media avenues, but many of our campers actually use snail mail correspondence to keep in contact with one another! In the digital era, that’s a pretty cool thing. When your daughter returns home and jumps back into home and school life, she will likely be grateful to have camp friends in whom she can confide—someone outside her regular social group.
Another great way to help kids stay in touch throughout the school year is to attend camp reunions, where they can reconnect with their camp memories and friends. We hope to see many of you folks there!

But I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself—we’ve still got a few more days of camp to enjoy before it’s time for our summer family to disperse temporarily and rejoin the hustle and bustle of the real world. Until then, I’m gonna head out and soak up some sunshine and friendship with the rest of the crew.

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