By Amy Lowe, Op-ed contributor | Tuesday, July 12, 2022
My pre-teen daughter climbed into our car one night at the end of this school year and burst into tears. She had been struggling with some friendships. On that drive back from Wednesday night church, she just finally broke down and let it all out. She cried the whole way home.
I didn’t say much at the time, as I’ve learned that sometimes the best thing you can do as a parent is to allow your child to just get it all out before receiving any advice or opinions. What immediately came to mind, though, was how grateful I was that I would be sending her to camp in two weeks. And not just any camp — a Christian camp — and, candidly, the one where I serve as a director. I objectively knew she would be surrounded by young women and girls who would call out the best in her and cheer her on.
I also marveled at how different her childhood was from my own. When I was in sixth grade, “stressed” wasn’t even part of my vocabulary. I wasn’t struggling with anxiety or depression. I wasn’t online, checking to see how many likes a photo had received. I was riding my bike and hanging out with the neighborhood kids. No doubt, things were simpler then.
But today, over half of teen girls say they have persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness, according to CDC research. In 2020 alone, the National Center for Health Statistics found that there were more than 6,600 deaths by suicide among the 10 to 24 age group. That same study also revealed that early last year, emergency department visits for suicide attempts were 51% higher for young girls.
The widespread and disheartening effects of social media on girls have been thoroughly documented: Depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, eating disorders, and body dysmorphia. And even when it doesn’t manifest in diagnosable disorders, our girls are saturated day in and day out with internet media that is proven to harm their emotional and mental health. In fact, a recent study found that social media largely worsens mental health during sensitive life periods, particularly for girls ages 11 to 13.
It’s scary for young girls to have to face these sad influences — and it’s scary for me as the mom to one of those young girls, too. But I do find comfort knowing that it’s possible to still build resilient, confident girls in this day and age, albeit determination, intentionality, wisdom, grace, and a strong community are required to do so. This is why I personally send my daughter to a Christian camp every summer.
I know that when I drop her off, she will be championed by the counselors and staff. She will be listened to and encouraged by people who genuinely care for her. She will learn to navigate the world around her from a biblical perspective. And most importantly, she will be taught that her identity and self-worth are not determined by how many “likes” she receives or how many “followers” she attains but by her Creator alone.
This type of environment is essential to helping our girls build the spiritual, social, and emotional tools they need to stay grounded in a world that is constantly bombarding them with the message that they are not enough — but it’s rare to find these days. This is why WinShape Camps is so explicit about intentionality and purpose being the core of the camp experience.
If we want to raise strong, healthy, confident girls, we need to provide them with opportunities to unplug. At WinShape, campers are asked to give up their phones for the duration of camp, and guess what? They gladly comply.
Throughout the week, they are intentionally integrated into small groups of supportive peers and spend time connecting in meaningful ways. They’re reminded every day how much they are valued and are taught to recognize the value of their peers. They’re also stretched in healthy ways through choosing new hobbies to learn and activities to participate in.
For instance, my little bookworm daughter chose to learn how to mountain bike last summer. She learned to rock climb and participated in musical theater. She stepped outside her comfort zone and was cheered on by fellow campers and her counselors as she did so. And she came home with more confidence because of it. I know firsthand that so many other summer campers have the same experience, and I’m so grateful that they do.
The reality is that raising children isn’t just about helping them cope with their stress, anxiety, or suffering: It’s about raising them to flourish, overcome obstacles and grow because of them. It’s about raising them to see the best in others and cultivate the best in themselves. Most importantly, it’s about raising them to know that God loves them deeply, that they are precious in His sight, and that He has a purpose and a unique plan for each of their lives — despite how they may feel at times.
No mom is ever alone in trying to raise strong, healthy girls. And no girl is ever alone in trying to grow up with self-confidence. Sometimes, we just need a summer at camp to remind us that it canhappen.