Homesick but Happy

Thursday, May 03, 2012

School and camp consultant, and clinical psychologist, Michael Thompson, author of Homesick and Happy: How Time Away from Parents Can Help a Child Grow, explores how and why children mature when they are away from home.


EVENT: Michael Thompson will be at the JCC in Manhattan on May 6th and at the 92nd Street Y on May 22nd.


Michael G. Thompson,

Comments [35]

Jim Zien from Vermont

I had the privilege of attending a workshop session with Michael Thompson at a recent conference of the American Camp Association/New England, where he was the keynote speaker. Thompson conducted several rounds of role playing with camp-director members of the audience, who offered up real life scenarios involving demands made on them by overreaching parents. In each instance, he demonstrated how a modest application of skilled psychological jujitsu can bring about child-affirming outcome.

At the 100-plus year old camps of The Aloha Foundation in Vermont (, we have pioneered a mentoring method called "Success Counseling" that works well with campers and parents alike. It's outlined briefly here: .

Jim Zien
Executive Director
The Aloha Foundation

May. 04 2012 11:21 AM
henry from nj

Cherry, you may be right (or wrong), but without giving at least one specific example you just come across as a bigot.

May. 04 2012 12:41 AM

As a non-jew in a jewish run camp, my experience has been that the jewish folks have become very intolerant of the 'other'. They are now systematically trying to alienate people who are not jewish. It's just disturbing to see that when any group becomes too powerful and cannot be checked, there are bound to be problems and sense of entitlement that further alienates the 'other'.

May. 03 2012 02:04 PM
Sherry from Far Rockaway, NY

My closest childhood schoolmates all started sleep-away camp around age 8-9 and my parents urged me to go as well. I resisted for two [conscious] reasons. My mother survived the Holocaust, raising me and my brothers with awareness of her sojourns at Bergen-Belsen and Auschwitz. To me the word "camp" meant being naked and cold in the darkness of early dawn, hungrier than I could imagine, and tormented by authority figures who would hurt rather than help campers. Not inviting images. The other reason I knew was less morbid; I had visited a cousin at her sleep-away camp. Her bunk was shabby-not chic; there were daddy-long-leg spiders on the window sills. A girl was talking about having seen a snake that morning. I was years away from appreciating any part of the animal kingdom except my pet cat; spiders and snakes were anathema.
At age 14 I had grown in many ways and chose to go to sleep-away camp. I blossomed, coming out of a stultifying shyness into a sunny place where my talents at singing, swimming and acting were enthusiastically appreciated. I went to that camp for three consecutive summers, until it closed for good.
Somewhere between then and now (age 59) I figured out that my earlier resistance to camp was mostly due to one, then-unconscious truth: I was terrified of being apart from my parents. I think it would have been wrong of my parents to force me to go--I applaud their good judgment on that issue--I was not ready and might have been traumatized without some agreement on my part. It has taken years and many, many dollars of therapy to acknowledge this reality. Well worth it, I think.

May. 03 2012 01:22 PM
Michael from NYC

Looking for a summer camp experience, illusion and reality. We visited a summer camp that advertised in well known NY publication all the time. On our visit we were shown what was supposed to be a typical cabin, single beds spaced wide apart, clean and brightly painted with curtains on the windows. We were told that good food, nutrition and activities were a hallmark of their camp. Now reality, on visiting day some weeks after camp started, cabin was dark and foul smelling, beds were upper and lower bunks less than an arm lengths apart, boiler had broken and there had been no hot water for weeks. Some campers had brought TV's and never left the cabin while munching on endless bags of chips and soda. Daughter got sick and had to taken to a local doctor. A really bad experience. Moral, don't trust any advertising, do a lot of research and don't take the camp director's word for anything.

May. 03 2012 12:25 PM
henry from nj

I was a five year old Jewish boy living in Vienna (Austria) with my family when my parents sent me to some summer camp outside the city. One day a group of us boys went out for a hike to some valley rich in strawberries. We settled down and filled our jugs full of the berries.

On the way back to camp I was afraid that they would make me eat all the berries left in my jug. I was always a poor eater and had developed over time almost a repulsion towards food especially as my mother who was afraid I would become sick because I ate so little tried everyday to push me to eat more than I could stomach. So on the way back to camp I tried to get rid of as much of the berries as I could without being noticed by the female nurses that went along with us.

One of them spotted me as I dropped some of my berries into the jug of a fellow camper who walked alongside me. Thinking I was stealing berries out of his jug I heard her say to the fellow nurse "look at this Jewish kid, they raise them as thieves from small up."

May. 03 2012 12:17 PM
Linda from Greenville, SC

Interesting subject as I text my sister in NY who's oldest daughter will not let her boys 8 and 6 visit us in SC or go on vacation with their grandmother to Florida. The boys have been to SC with their parents and have loved visiting. They have been asking to be allowed to come south but mom refuses to allow them to come. We have been asking her to allow them to visit but she would rather have them in day camp all summer long. We have not been able to figure her out. Wonder if she would allow overnight summer camp, nah doubt it. Find that the more you want to keep your kids close the more they want to break away.

May. 03 2012 12:13 PM

Yes, some of the camps offer scholarship assistance. Per my comment below, Camp Treetops offers a lot of aid in the interest of economic, cultural and geographic diversity.

May. 03 2012 12:09 PM
Patricia from Connecticut

Interest piece.. Having grown-up outside of NYC metro I find this assumption that the opportunity for this is everyone's experience interesting. I grew up in a small city in Ohio and hardely anyone did this growing -up-- if you did it was a week long church camp. A certain socioeconomic status is associated with this experience as these camps are often expensive. This tradition is also less common in other parts of the country- in part due to traditional differences, but again socioeconomic issues. I'm sure some camps offer scholarship, etc but if you don't market heavily to areas where this tradition is less common it seems like many kids miss the opportunity all together.

May. 03 2012 12:06 PM

So Lutheran and Methodist camps indoctrinate kids, but Jewish camps help kids maintain ties to traditions. Right.

May. 03 2012 12:05 PM
Linda from Jersey Shore

really?? some can't afford it so don't talk about it? good lord.

May. 03 2012 12:04 PM
Elle from Brooklyn

To CK from Yorktown - good point, Girl Scout and Boy Scout camps are subsidized by the organization and are MUCH cheaper option for you child for a week away.

May. 03 2012 12:01 PM

Camp was the most desperately miserable experience of my life;but my husband and I realized that we had two outgoing girls who were more socially competent than I was. We sent them to a diverse "Pinko Eco Freak Grow Your Own Food and Sleep in a Tent Camp" up in the Adirondacks as an explicit antidote to the nutty values of their NYC private school. It was better than therapy, I'm sure. They learned physical self-sufficiency, self-scheduling, lost the fear of nature and the outdoors that they absorbed by living with me, and became competent campers and hikers. We made sure to keep them away from camps with any emphasis on competitive sports, religion, or clothing. They were grubby and their feet were callused, ate vegetables they grew and harvested, and it was wonderful for them. One went back as a riding counselor. Thank you, Camp Treetops: best values EVER.

May. 03 2012 12:01 PM

It's wonderful that your guest had great experiences at summer camp. So did I. But a good male friend of mine was sexually abused by his counsellor as a 9 year old. This is a real factor and a real risk that has to be considered. It's not all good.

May. 03 2012 12:00 PM
Elle from Brooklyn

Regarding his last comment about "child-sickness" in the parents - I can definitely relate to that! I suspect many others can, too.

May. 03 2012 11:59 AM
Alison from Manhattan

Love this segment! I was 6 when I was sent away to camp - was a forest hills girl and got sent to New Hampshire for 8 weeks! Hated it at first but went for 12yrs and loved it!!!! THE BEST EXPERIENCE EVER - wish I could afford the same for my kids but the same camp is now upwards of 10,00$$$$$ NUTS!

May. 03 2012 11:58 AM
CK from Yorktown

Interesting comments on affordability: we were barely middle class and didn't have money to spare, but my parents made it possible for me to go for a week (Girl Scout camp apparently more affordable than many.. no luxuries there which is also a good experience.) Hopefully, BS and GS camps are still making things more affordable for families.

May. 03 2012 11:57 AM
Millie Magraw

Does the guest suggest that a child should attend summer camp, even if the child is adamantly opposed to do so?

May. 03 2012 11:57 AM

Can you talk about the concern of abuse/molestation in sleep-away camp?

May. 03 2012 11:57 AM

Some of my closest friends were made at summer camp almost 30 years of choice and a phenomenal support network. We've formed an alumni group that fundraises to improve the camp an provide scholarships to kids that otherwise would miss out on such a great experience experience of my childhood and so many camp lessons have carried me throughout the trials of adulthood

May. 03 2012 11:56 AM
Elle from Brooklyn

Your caller really surprised me by saying she was the only Jewish camper. In the New York suburbs where I grew up, sleep-away campers were almost exclusively the Jewish kids. Others of my age and background tell me it was similar in their hometowns as well.

May. 03 2012 11:56 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

I went one summer to a Jewish sleep-away camp up in Swan Lake when I was 12 in 1958 (or '59?), leaving the chaos of Brownsville Brooklyn temporarily behind for the safe, green open spaces of "the Borscht Belt." But I won't forget one unbelievable kid who somehow found himself there who could quote anything from Shakespeare you could think of. And he was dressed like Little Lord Fauntelroy. He seemed like stepped out of some Victorian novel. So out of place in the otherwise orthodox Jewish milieu.
But I certainly wasn't homesick. I was sick to have to go home to that hellhole of that time.

May. 03 2012 11:55 AM
Chris from NYC

I did one summer at camp when aged 11. I wasn't homesick, but resented the regimentation. So for me, I was much more independent at home. One year was enough, and really too much.

May. 03 2012 11:55 AM
tony from bayside

...and if you can't afford camp?
"oh well!" right?

May. 03 2012 11:54 AM
Kerith from Brooklyn

I have noticed anecdotally that some of the kids that are most confident and charismatic at home and at school end up struggling MORE at camp. I'm about to send two kids off to summer camp for the first time, I'm just wondering if this bears out?

May. 03 2012 11:54 AM

Sleep-away camp is a luxury for those that can afford it. I barely knew it existed until I went to college and met kids more wealthy than those I knew growing up.

May. 03 2012 11:53 AM
Listener from NYC

Don't forget the socioeconomic issues of sleepaway camp. My parents couldn't afford to send me to camp as a kid.

May. 03 2012 11:53 AM
Elle from Brooklyn

A very timely subject. My eight-year-old recently spent a week at my parents' house. We are considering letting him spend a week with my sister-in-law in Maine this summer, and he will probably go for a two-night overnight trip with his day camp in August. We can't afford any longer than that, but he's very excited for his trip away, and I think that time away from Mom and Dad is good for him (though hard on me!). It is hard to see my baby growing up.

May. 03 2012 11:52 AM
RKB from New Jersey

But what about those of us who can't afford to send their kids to sleep away camp?
Am I raising a child destined to be a sheep-follower because I can't afford to send him away for a few nights? Not likely.

May. 03 2012 11:52 AM
Nancy from Harlem

Hard for parents? Not for me. When I sent my daughter to summer camp in Maine I was thrilled that she would be getting these wonderful experiences AND, for both of us, that we would be getting a break from each other. And I was never prouder than when my tiny 8-year-old, waiting with the camp group to travel to camp together, turned to me and said, "Mommy, I'm so excited. I'm going to make so many new friends!"

May. 03 2012 11:52 AM
Elle from Brooklyn

A very timely subject. My eight-year-old recently spent a week at my parents' house. We are considering letting him spend a week with my sister-in-law this summer, and he will probably go for a two-night overnight trip with his day camp in August. We can't afford any longer than that, but he's very excited for his trip away, and I think that time away from Mom and Dad is good for him (though hard on me!).

May. 03 2012 11:52 AM
Linda from Jersey Shore

My kids were young but they were 1/2 sleep over and 1/2 day campers in the Adirondacks. they LOVED it, and HATED it, and LOVED it, they bonded, fought and came away fairly happy and well adjusted. I think.

May. 03 2012 11:51 AM
CK from Yorktown

I had a great time at camp so when my kids were 10, they started to go. They had a great time and got all the good benefits. I wasn't worried about their having experiences on their own as the guest implies, it was safety: does the camp staff really pay attention> will my kids be okay? And in fact, they were just fine. Great experience.

Becky: Why do you say "not any more?"

May. 03 2012 11:51 AM
John A.

Sleep-away camp. Where I learned how to swear and my parents could absolve themselves of all guilt in that matter.

May. 03 2012 11:50 AM
The Truth from Becky

Once a good idea, NOT anymore.

May. 03 2012 11:48 AM

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