Wilderness Camps: What you don’t know about choosing a camp, but should

This article discusses a few things parents should consider when deciding on a wilderness therapy camp for their teen. It outlines three factors that will help parents with their decision. The article deals with the level of difficulty of each camp, which camp best fits your child’s personality, and the complications during the first two weeks.

The thought of sending your child to a wilderness camp is frightening. You would be sending them far away to people that you’ve only talked to on the phone. When considering if a wilderness camp is right for your teen there are a few things that you should know before making the final decision. Not all wilderness camps are the same. Wilderness camps vary greatly from very rough to more mild. The rougher camps are required to carry all their food in their packs. This food usually consists of beans, lentils, and flour. Once a week their food supply is restocked. The teens are stripped of everything they own and given the bare minimum to survive. They then have to complete tasks that allow them to earn things that make life easier, such as a backpack, sugar, or spices. After eating plain beans and rice a little sugar goes a long way. Other camps are easier. Fresh food is dropped off everyday. This consists of food like sandwiches, eggs, bacon, chicken, etc. These camps apply the belief that by supplying the teen with everything they need physically the adolescent can spend most of their time emotionally developing. As they learn the skills to survive in the wilderness they can then discard unnecessary items. Some children respond very well to wilderness programs. If an adolescent is enrolled in the type of wilderness camp (rough or easy) that best suites him/her the experience can be positive. Wilderness camps are short term, usually one to three months. It doesn’t seem like much can be accomplished in such a short amount of time. This is not true. Factors such as working as a team, following a strict schedule, accomplishing difficult tasks, and Mother Nature all help to create a quick change in the child. Many attributes are gained. For example confidence, feeling of security, self esteem, and respect will help the teen to feel happy and in control. The last thing to realize about wilderness camps is that the first two weeks are difficult for everyone involved including the staff, the teen, the parents, etc. The child is often taken by surprise and placed in the program. Parents may have to lie to get their children to the wilderness site. These methods cause the teen to be hurt and angry at their parents. They are also scared to be in such a distant place where they know they can’t escape. Often teens tend to shut down when they first arrive. They rebel against their parents and authority by refusing to cooperate with the program. This causes stress on the staff since they have a new adolescent they hardly know anything about and that is very angry. They have to try to get to know the teen and what they need while also enforcing rules. In the first few days adolescents write letters to their parents describing how horrible the camp is, pleading with the parent to come and get them, and promising to do better if they are brought home. This makes it worse for the parents. Parents already feel guilty for sending their child away and now to receive such letters make them question their decision. Don’t judge your decision too quickly. After two to three weeks most teens start to adjust. After 30-60 days they’ve formed new friendships with other students and staff. Towards the end of their stay most of them are leaders and experts in wilderness survival. Other students look up to them and they contribute to the group’s development. When looking into wilderness camps for your teens keep this information in mind. Realize that not all wilderness camps are alike. Some are very tough and others are easier. To help your child have success decide which type best suites their personality. Lastly it’s important to keep in mind that the first two weeks will be very difficult for all involved. These guidelines will help to maximize your child’s success.

Tammy Ryan