As the world becomes increasingly connected, yet disconnected at the same time, there’s been a phenomenal trend towards addiction and reliance on technology.
Whilst some technology is great and having built a tech company, I could hardly argue otherwise. Yet other parts of it are insanely destructive. I was running a program recently with a group of 7th Grade students, which is nothing new or unusual for me as I’ve run a number of these over the years. They tend to be the extremely fun, activity-filled programs which are so exhausting the kids and staff are so tired, they don’t have time to think about anything else other than what the next day of fun activities will hold for them.
However, what happens to an awesome fun camp, when the messaging from parents leading into camp (and often during) is all wrong? Suddenly, one of the most exciting and memorable experiences turns into a battle for survival! A short day hike becomes an epic hobbit filled journey through the badlands with constant threats of demons and sheer cliffs to fall off at every turn. A canoe on a lake becomes a hazardous sea crossing and don’t even mention archery...
So what’s the source of all of this? It’s often separation anxiety of the parents who have been connected with their child so much, having read lots of rubbish parenting books which have resulted in them paranoidly giving their kids a mobile phone, so that when they’re at school or not in their direct line of sight, then can have that constant re-assurance that they’re only a text message away. I often wonder, how did anyone survive without this?
The other problem is the language which parents use with their children as they say goodbye. I can’t take all the credit for this observation, as there’s a great book called “Feel The Fear, And Do It Anyway,” by Susan Jeffers, which goes through some unhelpful messaging that parents often use that doesn’t not actually keep them ‘safe’ on demon filled camps, but holds them back from so many opportunities the world provides.
I won’t ruin the book for you, as it is a great read, but basically telling children to be ‘safe’ all the time rather than give everything a red hot go! This holds back growth and development and undermines the potential to build any real resilience, when faced with real danger or real problems. So with the toxic mix of goodbye messages and constant communications through a mobile phone, the scene is set for a hard week ahead, caused by the lack of trust and understanding on the part of the parent and that’s a lack of trust in both staff and their own child.
How can we address something like this as it is a risk to smooth operation and functioning of the program? The first step is to inform and educate parents. If they know where their child is going and what they’re going to do on camp, then this will start to build trust as well as defuse some of the anxieties which parents are really good at transferring to their children.
Simply sending out a single page letter about camp isn’t quite enough now in our distracted world. Instead, a pre-camp briefing after the letter is a far better way to approach it. Having a clear and to the point presentation about the camp is a great way to engage and educate parents about outdoor and experiential education and where it fits into the wider context of education. Focusing on the skills and relationship benefits is often a good way to highlight the value of camp to a broad audience whose opinions many vary dramatically. It also give you an opportunity to disclose important information about risk and risk management. As part of your presentation, this is important to address, as any potential major issues or questions which go unanswered will either lead to wild speculation, a level of distrust or both.
In amongst this, you don’t want to tell parents how to do their job. Instead, suggest talking about the excitement of camp and what opportunities the students going to have for some fun, rather than instilling worry, fear and loathing. It all becomes this great self-fulfilling prophecy. If kids think that it’s scary, they’ll miss their parents and are worried they’ll have a bad time, it’ll be a scary bad time and they’ll be homesick. If kids think that it’s an exciting adventure where they’ll face challenges and be able to get away from mum and dad for a bit, then they’ll have an exciting adventurous time, enjoy their experience and have lasting fond memories of it.
A lot of this can’t be done at school, but must be done at home in the days, weeks and months before camp. This not only sets them up for success on a camp, but sets them up for success in school and in life.
It’s through setting the scene that can determine how students engage with and are able to enjoy the experience. Before any big new camp or escalated stage of your outdoor education program, take the time to provide a thorough and informative presentation to parents to help reassure them and get them onboard with why camps and outdoor education are so important in the overall growth and development of their child.