Longer School Year is Not the Answer

While our nation is engaged in a conversation about education reform, I thought this was the right time to highlight what is right with America’s education: camp! In that spirit, I wrote an op ed to remind policy-makers that we need to celebrate the camp experience, especially against the backdrop of those who think that a longer school year will elevate us from our #24 position in the world in math skills. One thing I know for sure: children who go to camp rank #1 in confidence.

In no way is this intended as a political commentary, but rather as an endorsement of the camp experience as a valuable component of a child’s total education.

Here is the piece I wrote to media outlets across the country in my role as past president of the American Camp Association and advocate for the camp experience:

President Obama has endorsed a longer school year as part of the solution to America’s floundering educational system. I respectfully request that he reconsider that stance, and look no further than to his own daughter, Malia, who spent some of those precious summer weeks at overnight camp last summer.

As a longtime camp professional, who has literally thousands of anecdotal stories to affirm the value of camp’s experiential learning environment, I’d like to ask the President to reflect on his daughter’s growth after having spent out-of-school time at camp. Would those thirty days have been better passed at school, preparing for more tests; or in camp, a virtual classroom without walls, practicing for life’s circumstances? 

Where did she learn authentic lessons in compassion, cooperation, critical thinking, decision-making, resilience, and responsibility?

We don’t need to teach more answers. Rather, our conversation about education reform needs to consider the whole child — the art of camp, with its social education, is a vital complementary component to the science of school’s lessons. We need to find programs to promote youth development through the camp experience; we need to make camp available to more children, not more school for all.

Children need to be productive, to feel connected, and to learn to navigate on their own. The answers will follow.

Thousands of my colleagues across the nation will attest to the power of camp. No grades. No permanent records. Just authentic connections to the real world. Play is the work of childhood; it’s how children invent and re-invent themselves, find their place in the universe, and learn what they are good at and where they need to practice. Life is the quintessential test tomorrow’s leaders need to pass.

The American Camp Association’s outcomes research confirms that ten measured social constructs enhance the platform for learning: self-esteem, independence, leadership, friendship skills, social comfort, peer relationships, courage, environmental awareness, values (ethics), and spirituality.

President Obama, I’m sure that you and Mrs. Obama have seen exponential growth in Malia since last summer in these skill sets — a direct result of living in a community with shared values and real-life, unfiltered experiences close to nature.

School and camp are the yin and yang of education, interconnected parts that together advance bona fide academic achievement. 

Marla Coleman
New York
Past President, American Camp Association

Cell-ebrate! Unplugging at Camp

A recent article, “Can You Hear Me Now? Not if You’re at Summer Camp,” quotes a mom saying that she would pay extra for a tech-restricted camp experience! She explains that the first time she took her son to camp, he was on his iPod Touch the entire car ride, but the second time they made the drive, he didn’t even bring it in the car.

In that article, American Camp Association CEO Peg Smith explains, “Basically, summer camp is still considered an unplugged environment.” And that’s a really good thing, especially when you realize that, except for the precious weeks at camp, kids are plugged into some sort of solitary media environment for hours and hours each day.

In this era of immediate feedback and high communication, I acknowledge that it’s very difficult for a parent to change gears and feel comfortable not having that tether. Children today are accustomed to our running interference for them – because we can!

Here’s the good news, though: Not only do you not need to rescue your camper, you shouldn’t! And you definitely should not tell your camper to bring a cell phone “just in case.…”  (assuming that is the camp’s policy, which it is for 70 percent of them). The unspoken message there is that she can’t be safe unless a parent is there to solve the problem. (Are you planning to be her roommate in college?! Or move in when he gets married?!)

One of the greatest things camp does for kids, besides giving them the time of their lives, is the opportunity to learn to navigate on their own – recognizing that they can depend on themselves to fix a problem they are encountering at the moment; to use their own voice.

What better place to practice growing up than at camp – where it’s virtually impossible to make a bad choice, where counselors are trained to coach and support their campers, where an emotionally and physically safe community has been created?

I urge you: don’t miss this window of opportunity. Where else can a child truly get away from it all and learn to stand on his own feet – and build a stronger brain of her own?

It’s really interesting, but just the other day I realized how nice that feeling is. Throughout the summer while camp is in session, I tell my friends not to call me on my cell phone because I never use it, even when I am in the office; and I never gave that comment much thought until now. It has dawned on me that I, too, unplug during camp – and it is freeing!

Hey, I read that even Malia Obama is allowed only one phone call from camp!

Homesick or Kidsick: The Catch-22 of Online Summer Camp Photos

Here is my no-nonsense, cut-to-the-core take on how parents should view online photos from camp this summer! First, though, I want to frame the issue.

The subject of homesickness is quite mainstream – the so-called affliction is almost a rite of passage. We expect kids to miss home – if not their parents, then their pillow or their pet. But kidsickness is a whole different story! That “ailment” is rarely given its due, because it affects adults who are expected to be able to temper their emotions.

The reality is that kidsickness – parents pining for their children – is as much as an adjustment, if not more. In both cases, the “missing” is a steppingstone to independence. Think about it: in our society, parents and children are tethered by technology – cell phones, texts, e-mails, and tweets. (I’ve heard it called an electronic umbilical cord!)

That said, here is some simple advice for both kids and adults:

  • Know that the feeling is normal
  • Frame the separation in terms of time (they’ll be home soon!)
  • Keep busy

Sounds easy enough, but here’s the rub: anxiety is often heightened with the posting of daily photos because it keeps the tether connected. While the intent is to give parents a one-way window into their children’s lives at camp, the upshot is that it often amplifies worry: “That’s not my child’s happy smile,” “Why is she wearing an ace bandage?” or “That’s the shirt he was wearing yesterday” are just a few of the typical red flags parents contemplate.

So allow me please to coach you on the fine art of viewing online camp photos. First and foremost, remember: if there were a problem at camp, you would hear about it! No news is good news. Next, think about all the photos you’ve seen of yourself over the years where the camera did not capture your most flattering countenance although you were having a great time!

And if your child does not cross the path of the photographer that day (or vice versa), keep in mind that she is probably too engaged or too busy to worry about finding the photographer (so please don’t bribe her before camp by offering a cash reward for each photo she appears in or pre-arrange hand signals with hidden messages!). And, know your own child – is she camera-shy while your friend’s daughter gravitates to the lens?)

Keep in mind the life lessons:

  • Know that separation is natural and necessary. Each new experience increases a child’s confidence and ability to navigate on his/her own.
  • You taught your child well; the lessons that you have instilled in him/her don’t disappear when you are apart.
  • Camp is also a time for parents to have a break – from homework help, carpools, playdates… the year-round “spinning plates in the air.”
  • Camp is also a time for kids to take a break from their parents! They won’t forget you!

If you need a visual, check out this cartoon by Terry and Patty LaBan. You might even want to tack it up on your bulletin board!

CampPhotos Cartoon

Camp Provides the 4th “R” – Relationships

I knew it, even though I couldn’t prove it on my own. So, on behalf of parents everywhere, I’d like to thank the National Institutes of Health for its banner finding. It’s important news – children who have quality child care experiences do better academically in later years.

While this was a study of child care specifically, and not camp, it is an easy leap to see how a camp experience also enhances a child’s success – children have boundless opportunities to practice navigating on their own and to feel accountable for their decisions, under the supervision of trained, caring adults in an environment created exclusively for them.

Not only is the information from this research significant, but it removes a nagging burden of guilt from many moms and dads who sometimes are inclined to feel that they “have to” send their children to day care because they are working; the flip side of that notion is that they think it would be better if they could stay home with them. I sometimes become aware of a similar thought pattern when families are rejecting camp as the premier option for alternate summer learning and relaxation for their children when someone else brings up the topic of camp.

It goes something like this:

“Why would I send my child to camp when I can be home with him, and we can spend quality time together?”

My broad response is, “Because you alone, regardless of how many well-intentioned and dedicated hours per week you carve out, cannot create a working, belonging, contributing community in which you child gets to practice navigating on his own. (Did you see the article in the New York Times a few weeks ago titled “Antisocial Networking?” More on that topic very soon, but for now, I don’t want to digress!)

My supporting retort is passionately lengthy, so I’ll just list a few bullet points:

  • Children need to master skills that will help then become happy and successful adults; if parents are always there to “part the waters,” they will not have opportunities to learn from mistakes, take healthy risks, or realize that they are accountable for their own decisions.
  • Children need opportunities to interact with peers and improve their socialization skills, as well as to be part of a community with shared values and goals where they learn they are part of something bigger than themselves.
  • Children need to find out that other adults can provide good advice (after parents have vetted those people, of course!) and other perspectives for developing a strong personal value system.
  • Children and parents alike need to practice separating from each other so that children can build self-confidence and independence skills, and so that parents can have some needed “me time” to stay emotionally healthy and fulfilled.

If these aren’t compelling enough, there is more from the research. One of the headline discoveries, in fact, was that teenagers who did not have quality child care were more likely to act out and do poorly in school than their classmates.

All this news was validating of course, but here’s the kicker: new reports on children and nature reveal all kinds of benefits to them from first-hand experiences with nature - and even specifies camp as a natural provider of those opportunities.

Bottom line – parents can take a deep, relaxing breath when they place their child in the care of professionals who know how to coach, inspire, and motivate the best from their campers, underscored by the knowledge that every family member will thrive from that choice!

With every added piece of research that underscores its value, it is clearer than ever that camp boosts a child’s social and emotional health by providing the fourth “R” in their educational quiver: Relationships.

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

I am one of those people who has always questioned the wisdom in the theory that you should put on your own oxygen mask first in case of emergency when flying with children.

It’s a lot easier for me to sit back these days and understand the logic of that reasoning, now that my kids are grown and they are no longer dependent on me for survival. Of course it makes sense: how could I truly take care of them if I were gasping for air myself? To be honest, when we are in the throes of child-raising, we don’t look at it that way. Our fierce instincts to sit on the nest, no matter what, supersede our deep-seated knowledge that we cannot provide help if we ourselves are suffocating.

That’s probably why John Gottman’s Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work resonates with me. Anecdotal evidence, as well as research, point to the reality that if we are in a committed relationship, we need to work at being a good partner as much as we work at being a good parent.

In fact, I think these principles can save moms and dads the nosedive that can deprive them of the air needed to expand their own lungs to capacity, because they compel us to take care of ourselves emotionally, too. Consider these simple daily goals that Dr. Christine Carter of The Greater Good Science Center flags, based on Gottman’s plan for “five magic hours a week:”

  • 2 minutes every weekday morning
    Don’t leave the house without knowing what lies ahead for your partner
  • 20 minutes when you get home
    Decompress a little together before you plunge headlong into your evening routine. Listen actively to your partner, and be supportive. Think twice before you start offering advice at this time – the goal is to listen.
  • 5 minutes every day
    Find something you appreciate about your partner and tell him or her.
  • 5 minutes every day
    Give a little lovin’. Kiss, grab, hold, hug and otherwise touch your guy or gal. Here’s to hoping that it lasts more than five minutes!

 

My own observations, among thousands of camp families, confirms that caretaker adults who fan their own flames raise resilient children who are independent, happy, and successful. That means taking some time for the relationship that is the very container for a child’s growth. And it also means taking some “me” time.

If you need a visual, think about Maysie and Horton in Dr. Suess’ Horton Hatches the Egg. Yes, the moral of the story is to be responsible, even when it’s difficult; but the elephants also tell the tale that you have to be true to yourself.

In addition to fueling your own soul, you’ll be a positive role model for your children. It’s a win-win.

The Case for Summer Camp

In this economically-challenged era of forced choice, I can see where parents might question whether camp is really essential. We’ve all heard the benchmark measures: experiential education, physical activity, support and encouragement, healthy nutrition…. significant, matchless, and valuable criteria for sure. But there’s more – so much more – that speaks to the development of happy and successful children.

The camp experience centers on a growth mindset, where effort is the cog in the wheel of triumph, suggests researcher Carol Dweck. In contrast, the school environment is centered on a fixed mindset. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what’s different at camp: the camp culture celebrates the “I can try” mentality. “I can’t do it…yet” instead of “I can’t do it.”

There are no grades, no permanent record to interfere with the feat of effort to master achievement. The experts agree that there is no stronger predictor of happiness than “how robust and positive a child’s village is” - and camp builds that village, fostering intergenerational relationships with peers and role models alike.

Research confirms that the decline of free play itself has caused a waning in sense of control, as well as a rise in anxiety and depression. Peter Gray of Psychology Today explains, “By depriving children of opportunities to play on their own… we are depriving them of opportunities to learn how to take control of their own lives. We may think we are protecting them, but in fact we are diminishing their joy, diminishing their sense of self-control, preventing them from discovering and exploring the endeavors they would most love, and increasing the chance that they will suffer from anxiety, depression, and various other mental disorders.”

Extrinsic goals (rooted in other people’s judgments) rather than intrinsic goals (centered on one’s own development as a person) indicate a shift towards materialism in our culture. Studies show that children today feel that happiness depends on good looks, popularity, and material good. Camp, however, is the best demonstration of equality and moral order, because children learn that they are part of something bigger than themselves, that they can solve their own problems, control their own lives, develop their own interests, and become competent in the pursuit of their own interests, all while being part of a non-judgmental community that encourages an attitude of personal best.

Gray actually attributes the increase in anxiety and depression to the increased weight given to school! If you accept that hypothesis, then you can see why camp is the perfect antidote to the fixed mindset syndrome.

Dr. Christine Carter of the Greater Good Science Center has some great questions that parents can ask their children in order to foster a growth mindset. She suggests:

  • Model the growth mindset yourself by finding opportunities to tell your children about a time when you didn’t know the answer to a question.
  • Ask questions about their opportunities for learning and growth in the coming day.
  • Make sure to ask kids about topics other than academics or sports.
  • Talk to kids about their heroes and role models.

Two of my favorite questions to ask campers (which not only advances a growth mindset but also provoke informative answers!) are:

  • What was your favorite activity today?
  • What are you looking forward to tomorrow?

If the idea of a growth mindset, promoting motivation and productivity, resonates with you – and you agree that social connections are paramount – I have two things to recommend: make camp a financial priority and read Christine Carter’s new book, “Raising Happiness.”

Kids are Not Miniature Adults

“…Cleared for take-off… Adios amigos.” Well, I couldn’t have orchestrated a better example of blurred parenting boundaries if I tried! It was the Today Show lead, as a matter of fact; even an 8.8 earthquake took second billing to the travesty that occurred a few weeks ago in the JFK Airport control tower, when Controller Duffy decided it was cute for his children to instruct pilots on their take-off directives.

It’s not that the passengers were in danger, because we all realize that these “adorable children” were parroting their father’s commands; rather, it is the hubris and subsequent suspension of authority when it comes to their children, that sometimes envelopes parents who are smitten with the self-esteem bug – or should I say self-esteemia. An 8-year-old should not feel qualified or competent to direct air traffic. Period.

Lenore Skenazy, author of “Free-Range Kids” (both the book and the blog), cautions: “Free Range does not mean free-wheeling. Or God forbid – free-falling.”

Let’s use this abuse of power as a life lesson. Children are not miniature adults. They are kids. And they need to be playing and learning. They need to find out how to be productive, to feel connected, and to ultimately acquire the skills to navigate on their own. Those are the criteria of youth development, not the job qualifications of an air traffic controller! They sure don’t need to be navigating a plane with hundreds of passengers aboard, since they are developmentally incapable of navigating on their own at this age!

What’s most alarming, however, is not the lapse in judgment on the part of the air traffic controller-dad, but rather the nonchalant acceptance by the pilot dads and moms, as well as some passenger-parents! “Wish I could bring my kid to work,” quipped one. And if he were a surgeon?! Or a patient?!

Here’s the point: kids don’t want that much power! It is scary for them. They want their parents to be in charge and to guide them on the path toward adulthood. There is no good outcome when parents think they can catapult their children into the world of adults, not to mention down the runway. All they are doing is amusing – and indulging – themselves!

Let them be kids. Let them play. Play is the work of childhood, said Fred Rogers of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood fame, a widely acknowledged truth. The work of childhood certainly isn’t directing aircraft on one of the busiest runways in the world.

This was a huge breach of “Bring Your Child to Work Day.” Let the fallout be a concrete reminder to us as parents that children have to travel the runway to adulthood. There are no cards of “Chance,” as in Monopoly, where you pass “Go” and collect $200!

These children could have gone to work with Dad on that designated February day and watched, with utmost respect and awe, as he commanded air traffic. They didn’t need to literally walk in his shoes in order to understand what the job entailed. They should learn responsibility and resourcefulness and resilience at summer camp, not in the control tower. And they could aspire to one day earn the capability to sit in his chair.

It wasn’t cute. It was a wake-up call to helicopter parents everywhere. Don’t let them “fly” or direct others to fly until they are grown up!

Questions are Magic

As a camp director who has worked with children at summer camp for 30 years, I’ve known intuitively and anecdotally what I heard last week at a keynote address of the Association of Independent Camps at the American Camp Association National Conference. Dr. Foster Cline, co-author of “Parenting With Love and Logic,” topped the hit parade of advice for parents who want to raise responsible, resilient, and respectful children. I listened intently as he distilled his entire approach to asking the right questions, using the appropriate tone, and disengaging from a problem that belongs to the child and not to the parent. The bottom line? “I love you too much to argue.”

My favorite question has become my own mantra in the week since I’ve returned from Denver, and it is effective even between adults: “So how’s that going for you?” Closely related to the nonjudgmental statement, “Good luck with that.” (The trick here is to say it without any hint of sarcasm; good luck with that!).

I assume that any parent who is reading this blog has a shared vision: take control of the home in loving ways. That said, allow me to elaborate on some of these amazing techniques. “What do you think will happen if…?” “Why are you telling me this?” “How are you intending to solve that problem?”

The best set of questions are the ones that ask the child to figure out the consequences or the outcome, especially when you aren’t so sure of the upshot yourself! From my experience, I can assure you that often what the child comes up with is more pertinent and more stringent than what you might choose! Try some of these: “And what am I expecting right now?” “What do you think I’m thinking right now?” “What do you think is an appropriate consequence for your mistake?” You’ll be enlightened by the answers!

And speaking of mistakes, change your filter. The philosophy of the Love and Logic Institute teaches parents how to hold their children accountable in a way that locks in “empathy, love, and understanding.” It is rooted in the undeniable reality that mistakes are how children learn. Best question in the world, reveals Cline, is, “What have you learned from this?” Another is, “Can you tell me your strategy for helping….?”

Self-confidence, you see, is acquired through struggle and achievement. So don’t rescue your child, or you will preclude him from developing his own internal voice which says, “I wonder how much pain I’m going to cause for myself with my next decision?”
Use empathy, advises Cline, to validate feelings. Master the one-liner: “That’s so sad.” “Nice try.” “Thanks for sharing your thoughts.” “What a bummer.” In essence, his guidance is, “Go brain dead!”

And make sure you remember whose problem it is you are dealing with! Counselors do it all the time – “If I see you behaving in a way that would stop your leadership potential, I’ll be honest with you.” “Here are my hopes for you.” “The way I work is….”
These are the steps to responsibility – pure questions without accusations, Cline summarizes. “What are you feeling?” “What was the choice you made?” “What are your thoughts now?” “Would you like to hear how others have handled it?” “What do you think you’ll do next time?” “How do you think that will work out for you?” And the classic, my very favorite, “Good luck with that.”

Oh, and one more thing, Cline suggests. Don’t feel that you have to come up with a consequence on the spot. Give your child a chance to ruminate on some of the possibilities while you take the time to cool down and reflect on a punishment that is logical and natural, not punitive and vindictive. Remember, it’s about the lesson, not retribution.

Helicopter parents, Cline opines, end up frustrated and with hostile, dependent children who can become resentful and rebellious. Rescue missions, for which both helicopters and helicopter parents are known, often end up with demands such as, “You’re going to have to….” Instead, keep your sense of humor (“I tried that years ago.”) And, above all, don’t take it personally. Think about acceptance without approval. Who owns the problem? Whose idea was this?

Your goal, the psychiatrist asserts and I have evidenced, is to get kids to lecture themselves!! It’s a wonderful tool that carries a lifelong lesson.

Emotion Coaching

Simple modifications in our approach to raising children can make us significantly better parents and our children substantially happier and more successful. Two sea-change books of Dr. Spock proportions, spanning 25 years, are among the works that help tell the story: “Emotional Intelligence: Why it Can Matter More Than IQ” by Daniel Goleman and “Nurture Shock: New Thinking About Children” by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman.

First Goleman: IQ was a number that used to predict a child’s success as an adult. It was a bullseye along the continuum of educational attainment that was firmly fixed as a measurement of achievement. But that was the 20th century. And IQ has become less important since the millenium, as we increasingly become aware that emotional intelligence – or EQ – is a far better indicator of human success.
Bronson and Merryman address the inverse power of praise (“Sure, he’s special. But new research suggests if you tell him that, you’ll ruin him. It’s a neurobiological fact.”)

We are not, as it turns out, wired for greatness from birth. It seems that our achievement-oriented culture can mislead us. Christine Carter from the Science for Raising Happy Kids, explains, “We buy into the importance of having our children labeled as gifted early in life; we get carried away trying to pack too many activities into our kids’ lives… we spend billions of dollars on gimmicky videos hoping to give our kids an academic edge.”

Ironically, the markers of success are the softer skills, such as delaying gratification, impulse control, resilience, and empathy for others. There are no standardized tests to measure these emotional competencies. Yet studies confirm that children who learn to think for themselves, make good choices, and bounce back from adversity thrive in the work place as well as in their overall happiness quotient.

Self-awareness, it turns out, is the cornerstone of emotional intelligence, and emotional intelligence is shaped by experience. Survival skills are the mainstay in the backpack of life’s perils.

There’s the now-famous research study of the four-year-old and the marshmallow. The researcher explains: “You can have this marshmallow right now. But if you wait while I run an errand, you can have two marshmallows when I get back.” And he leaves the room. Some children take the treat right away, while others find creative ways to resist the temptation. It turns out that those who were able to delay gratification grew up better adjusted, more confident, and more competent teenagers. There’s more: when some of the students took the SATs years later, the ones who had held out longer scored an average of 210 points higher.

The “Nurture Shock” authors examined a set of positive emotions they dubbed “Supertraits:” resilience, gratitude, honesty, empathy, and fairness. Their theory: “If we could sufficiently arm children with Supertraits such as these, we hoped that problems would bounce off them just as easily as bullets bounced off Superman.”

Enter summer camp. Or call it a summer learning environment. Whatever the nomenclature, it’s the best place on earth for children to learn to think for themselves, where they can don their invisible cape That’s because the camp community is designed with intentionality – to help children learn the social skills they need, to have positive role models, to demonstrate democracy and moral order, to provide supports and opportunities for children to practice growing up.

We’re talking about how children learn – not about academic accomplishment. We need a galvanized effort with all out-of-school-time organizations, an anthem of sorts that seeks to layer emotional intelligence on cognitive intelligence, thereby producing a person’s general intelligence. And parents need to be part of the chorus.
So, readers, I say, go for it! Teach your children to cope, to problem-solve, to gain stress tolerance and impulse control. Let them make their own choices and bear the consequences of their decisions. Help them build their self-confidence, and don’t worry so much about their self-esteem. Resist the alarmist framing of so-called experts who inadvertently persuade you to tutor your 4-year-old who doesn’t know every letter of the alphabet yet. Learning doesn’t all happen in school.

Education and school are not synonymous. We can nurture the power of the heart, while we have less control over the destiny of the brain.

Overparenting – Can You Resist its Forces?

Overparenting: It’s not a new topic for me, but it certainly is a favorite one! I think that’s because I was guilty of it in its earliest and more benign form more than three decades ago – long before the term was coined or equipment such as baby kneepads or “Hi Mom” webcams were invented.

It’s easy enough to fall into the trap of viewing parenting as a type of product development, a 21st century phenomena that sort of crept up on us because of our best intentions! In part, that’s because 30 years ago, it was the job of parents to expose their children to the outside world, and today it is their job to protect them from it, explains anthropologist Mary Pipher.

“Fear is a kind of parenting fungus: invisible, insidious, perfectly designed to decompose your peace of mind,” muses Nancy Gibbs, a Time Magazine columnist. And that fear is doubled-edged: we’re talking fear of failure as well as of physical danger.

The culprits, I believe, from anecdotal evidence, are also two-sided: post 9/11 angst in conjunction with technologies, such as cell phones and texting, that are conducive to a parent-child tether. I didn’t have to contend with either of these, which is why I think my overparenting tendencies fell short of the coveted obsessive category. Frankly, unless I was willing to be housebound Monday through Friday, I couldn’t know if my child had gotten sick or injured at school. I know it sounds incredible – like in the olden days before there was air – but there were no cell phones! The liberating thing about that so-called limitation was that my children learned to navigate on their own; they had to rely upon their own choices and suffer the consequences of any poor ones. I couldn’t smother them if I wanted to. Today, with the best of intentions, parents are dodging the snowballs of life for their kids, rendering those children risk-averse and incapable of fending for themselves.

I’ve discussed this phenomenon before – snowplow parents says Hana Estroff Marano in “A Nation of Wimps” – who figuratively drive their snow removal SUVs down the road to clear the path of any snowbanks or other obstacles. The problem, of course, is that their children don’t have the opportunities to build resilience, because there is no adversity for them to overcome!

And there’s another issue: unintentional abdication of responsibility on the part of the parents, who in their zeal to plot a course through their child’s world, hire so-called experts to make decisions on their behalf! Enter the Pre-Baby Planner, for example, who decides how the nursery should be arranged, what should be in it, and how the prospective parents should mentally and emotionally prepare for this arrival. As Lenore Skenazy, founder of the Free-Range Parenting Movement, opines, “…It’s good to remember that humans have been raising mini-humans for hundreds of thousands of years, and until now we managed to do it without hiring someone to pick out the perfect rocking chair.”

So is it any wonder that when these children go off to college they are labeled “teacups” and “crispies” because of their fragility?! The term “helicopter parent,” so designated because of the hovering penchant of parents, has rendered metaphorical stalled engines in their offspring. If you need evidence, consider the new generation of “stealth fighter parents,” who no longer float overhead constantly but “can be counted on for a surgical strike just when the high school musical is being cast or the starting lineup chosen,” observes Gibbs.

Interestingly, as a direct result of the 2009 economic downturn, families have had to make forced choice decisions about extra-curricular activities, and they have found unexpected positive outcomes of their children picking up “leisure” time for play.

(By the way, summer camp is definitely not one of those “discretionary” choices! It is a vital component of a child’s total educational package, proffering life skills that cannot be gleaned elsewhere. You could even say it’s an antidote to overparenting, because children are learning to find the way on their own in a community created for them to practice growing up.)

Mea culpa. As a mom of the ’70s who also raised her children to give them every “emotional, intellectual, and material advantage”(Motherlode’s Lisa Belkin), I get it, though I stopped short of kindergarten tutoring or calling the high school guidance counselor to protests grades. But now, as a camp professional who works with children and families and who has a different perspective on the end result of these best intentions, I advocate for “letting go.” As psychiatrist Gail Saltz observes, that is not the same as “letting down.”

Become a fan of Slow Parenting, the antithesis of overparenting. Let them learn by doing, by making mistakes, by bouncing back, by making choices for which they are accountable. Trust that you have salted the road by instilling values that will inform healthy choices.

Hey, you might even purchase a baby T-shirt at Honestbaby.com that says, “I’ll walk when I’m good and ready.”