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My Son Refuses to Go to Day Camp!
by Rabbi Yakov Horowitz
Publication: Chicago Community Kollel

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Rabbi Horowitz:

We are not quite sure how to respond to the request of our twelve-year-old son who is begging us to “be left alone” for the second “trip” (the last four weeks of the summer) and not attend a local day camp.

He is enrolled in sleep-away camp for the first four weeks of the summer, and by all accounts, he seemed to have had a wonderful time there in past years. In fact, last year, he won the “Best Camper” award and we got excellent reports from the staff on visiting day.

Our dilemma is that he recently informed us that he wants to “hang out” at home for the last four weeks and not go to day camp as he has for the past few years. He says that he is tired of being told when to wake up, when to be at meals, when to cheer and when to go to sleep. He just keeps saying that he wants to “be left alone.”

He is our oldest and child care is not a problem. We are worried, though. Is this a normal thing for him to want? Is it good for him to be unstructured for so long?

Names Withheld

Rabbi Horowitz Responds

This past summer, I accepted an invitation to serve as a scholar-in-residence at a Kosher summer vacation program in Canada. During my stay there, it was quite remarkable to observe the strikingly diverse manners in which people spent their ‘down-time.’

Some of them embodied the ‘A-type’ personality throughout the 10 days – waking up at 6 a.m., davening at the first minyan, eating a quick breakfast and briskly walking through the hotel lobby to begin a 12-14-hour day of touring and sightseeing. One evening during dinner, as I listened to one of the ‘A-types’ relating to me all the sites visited that day, I told my wife that I almost got dizzy just listening to the report.

Others had the polar opposite approach to their vacation. Their idea of leisure time is to disengage from the frantic pace of modern-day life and basically leave their watch in their hotel room safe. One could sum up the vacation profile of the ‘B-type’ people with the Yiddish phrase, “Kim ich nisht haint, kim ich morgen,” which loosely translated means, “I am in no rush to get anywhere or do anything.” It was interesting to note that several of the ‘B-type’ vacationers were the quintessential ‘A-type’ people in their daily life back home, and that there were men and women in both groups – often with the 2 spouses having opposite profiles!

Now; just imagine what torture it would be to plunk down one of the ‘B-types’ in a carful of

‘A-types’ for an endless day of running-from-place-to-place touring. I think the ‘B-type’ person would think that he/she is being punished for his/her sins, not enjoying a vacation.

I often quote the timeless and sage advice of Reb Shlomo Wolbe z’tl who said that children should be viewed as the miniature adults they are; each with their unique personality. What he was trying the root out with his remarks was the notion that children can be lumped into one grouping and treated all the same and reinforce the critical reality that they are all individuals – just as adults are. When we follow his approach, we embrace the words of Shlomo Hamelech (King Solomon) in Mishlei, “Chanoch l’naar al pi darko – "Educate the child according to his ways and [then] he will not depart from it."

Back to your son’s summer request; viewed through the lens of Reb Wolbe’s insight, this just means that your son wants a ‘B-type’ format for the second four weeks of the summer. This may just be a manifestation of his personality – enjoying down time in his own way. In fact, I will make a bold prediction and tell you that when this particular child of yours grows up, he will probably carry that ‘B-type’ vacation profile for the rest of his life.

(I think that this theme of viewing children as little adults – when implemented with wisdom and balance – is one of the most important concepts in effective parenting. And while I don’t like to harp on the negative, I would say that a one-size-fits-all approach is one of the most destructive mindsets that parents can have.)

Keeping all of this in mind, I strongly suggest that you honor your son’s request. With the rigorous schedule that our teen children have nowadays, the last thing you want is for him to start a new school year burned out or feeling that he didn’t have a vacation.

I suggest that you consider making the following provisos:

1) Right now, before you give your blessing to his time off, clearly lay out your expectations for him during those weeks; for example, davening with minyan, learning with a chavrusah (study partner) or rebbi for a determined period of time, doing some chores around the house, etc. Make sure that you specify exactly what it is that you want so there is no confusion.

2) Inform him that since this is unchartered territory, you will consider the first of the four weeks to be a trial period, and you will evaluate things after one week, with the understanding that should things not go well, you reserve the right to enroll him in day camp for the last 3 weeks. (Of course, you have the right to do that regardless of your preconditions. But it is always wiser to prepare your children for the consequences of their actions.)

And, … enjoy your time with him. Kids grow up quickly, you know. Trust me; in a few short years, you will be very glad to get his undivided attention for just a few minutes when he is a teenager!

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