Summer camps are good for our children’s health

Optimal health of children is vital to a society and the recent article about Camp Homewood was a reminder of some good work being done locally for the past 70 years.

I compare this to Dr. Charmaine Enns’ report on the health of Campbell River and the North Island reported in this same paper July 11. Her recommendation for universal childcare and easing societal pressures on families rather than throwing more “health services” at the problem is fascinating. It makes one wonder why high quality childcare at a young age makes such a difference to health determinants later in life. Is it because of role modeling by healthy adults? Is it because in high quality childcare there is less exposure to television and other media than if a child were otherwise home alone or with little limit to their media exposure?

This is clearly a complex issue but I wanted to make a plug for summer camps as a place where children can be exposed to healthy role models and their use of media is significantly curtailed. Summer camp is not “universally subsidized” but some camps have bursary programs where a week at camp can be had at reduced cost to those in financial need.  Although a week at camp won’t solve the issues of the children of Northern Vancouver Island, let me outline why it is certainly beneficial to children and youth.

Media use by children is almost universal and increasing rapidly. Statistics out of the U.S. suggest that young people aged 8-18 spend seven hours and 38 minutes per day engaged in the use of media, which is up significantly from the five years before.  Canadian children are perhaps less engaged in media use than their neighbors to the south, but there has not been a similar study published in Canada.

The Canadian Pediatric Society recommends NO screen time for children aged less than two years of age and that for children older than two years, recreational screen time (TV, computer, video games, multimedia phones) be limited to no more than two hours/day. They also make recommendations about limiting time spent indoors and increasing physical activity to 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity activity daily after the age of five years.

An overnight camp typically has a policy about electronics; usually don’t bring them. This means that cell phones, game consoles, tablets and the retro Walk-Man are to remain at home. If electronics do appear at camp they are generally confiscated and kept in the director’s possession until the end of the session.

This means that children spend their time in social interactions and being physically active. They learn songs and skits and new skills. They observe the people around them, particularly their leaders, who tend to be fit, healthy, creative and motivated young adults.

Michael Thompson, PhD writes in his book, Homesick and Happy: How Time Away from Parents Can Help a Child Grow, that camp counsellors teach social skills by modelling positive and inclusive interactions 24 hours a day, and that children are watching this closely. Camp research suggests that children make great friendships at camp, and that 70 per cent of them maintain them after camp is over. Children report that camp made them more outgoing or that they were able to “be themselves,” escaping the social and identity traps of elementary and middle school.

Summer is the perfect time of year to take advantage of the outdoors; to turn off the screens and pursue recreational opportunities. Some families do this together, but other parents are unable to take the time away from their employment. Thus some children have the opportunity to go to camp on their own.

There is some evidence that this is actually a good thing. Will it solve the significant issues of the North Island? No, but it might (on an individual basis) make a child a more resilient adult with healthier habits.

Dr. Jennifer Kask

Campbell River




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