How My Twice Exceptional Teen Became a Happy Camper

How My Twice Exceptional Teen Became a Happy Camper

A mom recently wrote about her son Fen’s experience at camp. He’s been coming to OTC for the past five years. Fen is one of the most original, interesting and hilarious campers who has come to camp. He’s not always the easiest and when he first came to camp he seemed to want to go home on a pretty regular basis, but I’m glad he stayed because he’s made our camp better every summer.

Fen’s mom says our camp is perfect for a 2e kid. While I’m not an expert on twice-exceptional people, the teens who have come to camp whose parents have told me are “twice-exceptional” have done really well. I was struck when Fen’s mom  wrote, “most camps are designed to produce an outcome. He needed freedom.” I think the only outcome we ever shoot for at camp is to help kids be themselves, have fun, maybe even find a little joy and laughter.

 

“OTC was a refuge for our twice exceptional son”

I don’t really know how to explain the refuge that Odyssey Teen Camp is for our twice exceptional son. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a smart kid and makes his way in life, but it’s a rough path with lots of bumps in the road. If you know and love a 2e kid, you know they aren’t typical. They don’t fit easily into the categories of special ed, gifted ed or gen ed. Unless you’re lucky enough to have them in a school made for this population, you know they spend a great majority of their time in school and activities making it work, being a round peg in a square hole.

At OTC, our 2e child fit perfectly by just being who he is, and the gift that is to him and our family is hard to articulate.

“Most camps are designed to produce an outcome”

Let me start by telling you we’d tried a variety of camps for him over the years. He’s attended sleepover, day, sports, comedy and drama camps as well as after school classes.. Results varied, but the theme throughout was typically a forced experience our kid endured. Most camps are designed to produce an outcome; a better athlete, actor or computer skills. These are great for many kids, but ours had a hard time in these more rigid organized environments that focus on a skill. So much of a 2e kid’s life is work, he needed freedom. He also typically struggled in social settings because intricacies of a group dynamic could overwhelm him. He needed a place he could be completely authentic, to proudly be his quirky unconventional self with no judgement. If past experience proved true for us, that seemed unlikely.

“it’s a place full of quirky kids”

The summer before our son went to high school, his college-aged sister mentioned a summer camp her friend had attended and worked at for many years. She thought it would be a good fit for her little brother. “Mom,” she said, “it’s a place full of quirky kids.” She told me it wasn’t therapeutic, not themed or skills based and not intentionally for 2e kids… just a place where differences were celebrated, judgement was non-existent and kids were told to be “exactly who they are.”

If you’re the parent of a twice exceptional kid like me, you might be as skeptical as I was. Be exactly who they are isn’t something you’re used to hearing. Raising a 2e kid means a lot of time spent listening to the ways your child is the squeaky wheel and all the ways your child can adjust their true selves to fit into school, enrichment programs, teams, etc. To think there’s a place where they can just “be” seems suspect. I needed to investigate.

I called my daughter’s friend. She knew our son and wholeheartedly thought he’d love OTC. When I said that I didn’t think he’d like a full day of activities, she mentioned an afternoon class she’d taught called Cloud Watching because she said, “some kids need to lay on the lawn and stare at the sky for an hour.” I mentioned he sometimes had trouble maneuvering social situations, she assured me this was rarely an issue at OTC for any kid.

“I called OTC’s director… I held nothing back”

I called Adam Simon, OTC’s director. I honestly described the ins and outs of our son’s personality. His intensities, overexcitabilities, and anxiety. His disabling fear of insects and propensity for only eating peanut butter related food. I said he could be argumentative, anxious, stubborn and inflexible. I also shared his humor, kindness, wit and ability to speak with boundless passion about subjects he cherished. I held nothing back. As the phone call came to an end I waited to hear what I had been conditioned to hear, pause and hesitation. I waited to hear the ways this “might” work or that this probably would be a challenge, or a flat out no. But, if memory serves me Adam barely skipped a beat and said he couldn’t wait to meet our son. We signed him up.

I don’t know how Adam and his amazing staff manage to unite and empower a diverse group of teens who by the end of camp seem to radiate connection and happiness. OTC is, in my opinion, a rare opportunity for teens in our culture. A place where nothing more is required than to be real, be good and just be. Don’t get me wrong, there seems to be plenty of opportunity to learn some cool skills and there are plenty of activities, it’s just that the main focus is on being a kid, not planning for college or adulthood. OTC campers fully embrace the moment that is being a teenager, the opportunity to be totally goofy, filled with energetic emotion, and completely real.

“He got to be exactly who he is, and that, for a 2e kid is a unique & beautiful thing.”

At OTC our guy swims in all of his clothes, takes classes on things like Yoga, Food & Music and Protesting. He does stand up comedy and had a plastic skeleton for a cabin-mate. He got totally homesick, wanted to leave and was encouraged and reassured to stay by his amazing pod leaders. He was appreciated and encouraged by camp staff to grow as a person, conquer his fears and try new things. He acted weird, dressed like a banana, sang songs, made friends, and most importantly felt completely included in a community where everyone is celebrated. He got to be exactly who he is, and that, for a 2e kid is a unique & beautiful thing.

Find out about Odyssey Teen Camp

A great place for teens to be exactly who they are in a community that celebrates diversity. 

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The Dark Tunnel of Adolescent Evolution (Part 2): What Does “Staying in The Game” Look Like For Parents?

The Dark Tunnel of Adolescent Evolution (Part 2): What Does “Staying in The Game” Look Like For Parents?

 

As I continue my discussion in video 2 with therapist Amy Frisch, who has been leading groups for teenage girls for twenty years, Amy offers some great advice for parents (none of which will necessarily be easy to follow).

All the different parenting phases in our child's life depending on their age are hard, and here's the deal, it doesn't get easier.” - Amy FrischClick To Tweet

Staying in the game

Staying in the game as she says, can take many forms. The concept that we need to “listen more than we talk,” feels particularly important for all parents of teens, (and Directors of teen summer camps).

For several years at Odyssey Teen Camp I would invite certain adults who I thought had a lot of wisdom to share to come and speak to the teenagers. They were people I wanted to listen to.

I quickly realized teenagers were not all that interested in hearing what these people had to say. I would hear things like “that was so boring” after someone would give a talk I found inspirational, or campers would say, “that speaker was only interested in talking about themselves.”

Listening more than we talk

I’m pretty sure Amy’s advice for us to try to refrain from telling the teenagers in our lives all the things we know and offering our wise advice is probably a good idea.

It’s probably more helpful to tell them about our insecurities, anxieties, and some things we struggle with. That’s probably something they can identify with and may find interesting.

“Consciously Parenting Teens” Video Series

Here’s to listening, more than we talk. I hope you enjoy our short video above. If you haven’t opted-in to see the entire series, here’s the form again to subscribe.

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An invitation

And please do leave a comment below if you would like to add to this conversation. I would love to engage with you and hear your thoughts and stories.

– Adam

Social Anxiety and Shyness as an Invitation to The Great Unknown

Social Anxiety and Shyness as an Invitation to The Great Unknown

Girl sitting on her camp bed journaling

Every month I receive calls from concerned parents whose teenagers have been diagnosed with social anxiety. They see their teenager spending too much time alone, having trouble making friends, seeming depressed, etc. It’s easy to understand why parents are very worried. I’ve struggled with anxiety most of my life, and I know it can feel painful and constricting to live with. However, when teens diagnosed with social anxiety spend time at camp, it’s evident these wonderful, kind, sensitive, vulnerable, and generally very shy teenagers can find their way.

I’ve read that social anxiety is a commonly diagnosed disorder and 15 million people suffer from it, which makes it the third most common mental health disorder. Social anxiety is characterized by fear of being rejected, criticized, judged, or being perceived unfavorably. It’s a fear of humiliation or embarrassment. Not surprisingly social anxiety becomes more prevalent with the onset of puberty and the powerful physical and emotional changes that come with it. While social anxiety can feel overwhelming, and even debilitating, it seems very human to me.

I’m pretty sure teenagers have always been shy and plenty anxious. They are experiencing so many new and unexpected desires, emotions, and physical changes, it is completely natural to feel confused, awkward, helpless, and hence, anxious. Teens today live in a world where what they do and say can be instantly seen via social media to a vast and sometimes unforgiving audience, it must feel very different than when I was a teen, fifty years ago.

David Whyte, the wonderful poet, said that …

“Shyness is the sense of a great unknown, suddenly about to be known. It is the exquisite and vulnerable frontier between what we think is possible and what we think we deserve.”

I remember reading this passage from a book, the main character is reminiscing about his past (paraphrasing) “When I was a teenager I felt like I was on fire. I remember there were plenty of kids who could happily help me let that fire get out of control, and there were plenty of adults who seemed available to extinguish the fire, but I remember feeling, why is there no one here to help me tend this fire?”

Having to deal with powerful feelings and discover new ways of being in the world is daunting, but what if instead of feeling shame around our shyness and social anxiety, we could look at it as healthy, natural, and even necessary. Uncomfortable feelings are needed as we explore the great new mysteries life is offering us. I will try to view my own social anxiety through that lens.

How does teen camp help teenagers lessen their social anxiety? Well, if our camp is about anything, I think it is about connection. Teenagers recognize fairly quickly at camp that they are not going to be judged harshly, if at all. I believe this helps them relax, let go of some defenses, and share their gifts with peers, sometimes for the very first time.

We create a space where teenagers talk openly about things they are trying to figure out. We offer group discussions on topics like gender, sexuality, race, parents, politics, etc., and teenagers can express themselves in a real, and honest way. While we are not a “therapy camp,” I’ve seen how therapeutic these discussion groups are.

We leave kids alone to read a book when that is what they feel like doing, and they don’t have to always put on a happy face, or act happier than they feel. Finally, if social anxiety is a fear of being rejected then it just makes sense that being in a community where you are seen, accepted, and loved can go a long way towards reducing some of those social anxieties and shyness, and maybe more easily accept that invitation to the great unknown that is our life.

Find out about Odyssey Teen Camp

A great place for teens to be exactly who they are in a community that celebrates diversity. 

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The Link Between Technology & Social Anxiety: Why Face-to-Face Engagement is So Important

The Link Between Technology & Social Anxiety: Why Face-to-Face Engagement is So Important

 

In video 5 my 8 part discussion with Amy Frisch, a wonderful therapist who has been leading teenage girls groups for twenty years, she had some truly helpful things to say around social anxiety.

She talks about how stimulating technology can be and how we need to help our teens learn to quiet their central nervous system. I think we sometimes forget that we are human animals and that when it comes to fear and anxiety our reactions are often not much different than other animals.

My takeaway

My favorite takeaway from this short video is when Amy says that today teens consider “hanging out” what they do on Skype or Snapchat. They don’t call each other on the phone and say “come over to my house, hang out, no one’s home.”

I imagine with so much of our communicating being done through our phone, the idea of sitting face to face feels like too much. Too much pressure, too much stress, and maybe even too much intimacy.

“Consciously Parenting Teens” Video Series

I hope you enjoy the video above. If you haven’t opted in to see the full 8 part series, I do encourage you to see it. Amy has a really unique way of presenting ideas. Here’s the form to subscribe.

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An invitation

I would love to continue this discussion with you in the comments below. If  you feel inspired to share your stories or insights, I would love to hear them.

Setting Screen Time Limits For Teens Without Starting World War 3

Setting Screen Time Limits For Teens Without Starting World War 3


 

In this two minute video Lauren Muriello, LPC of  Well Being Therapy Center offers a few strategies for setting screen time limits for teens so that they can do the things they’re supposed to do, like  studying, eating dinner with the family and sleeping at night. 

When setting limits doesn’t work

Once you have clear guidelines about when phones need to be turned off and put away, (say 5:00-7:00 each night for homework and once they go to bed), if your child is not following the guidelines you’ve established, then it may be time to use technology to your advantage.

Rather than spending time arguing, debating, and nagging your teen to get off their phone, Lauren recommends using an app that allows you to turn your child’s phone off. It’s quick and easy. They may not like it, but if you stick to it they will learn to keep the agreements you’ve made around cell phone usage.

Using the app Lauren recommends eliminates the battle. If used consistently and fairly during the agreed upon hours, your teen will “get it.”They may not like it, but they will get it.

Get the phones out of the bedroom

“I recommend talking as a family about when it’s important to have no technology. You should definitely have a clear time at night where the phones are turned off and are charging out of the bedrooms.“ -Lauren Muriello Click To Tweet

Lauren mentions one study which showed that 30% of teenagers wake up in the night to check their phone. In a BBC article, that number is stated even higher at 45%. That’s crazy. What good can come of that? They can potentially read upsetting texts and end up laying in bed when they could be sleeping.

This is all tough stuff stuff to implement, but the key is consistency and walking your talk. That means it’s equally important for us as parents to model the behavior we want our children to follow.

If we want our kids to turn their tech off during family time then we need to do the same. I realize it’s tricky because sometimes parents have real needs to have their technology on, but I do feel that children copy what they see us do more than what we tell them to do. That is a fact.

“Parenting and Digital Technology” Video Series

I do hope you get a chance to watch the video above and opt-in for the whole series. I think there are some some good takeaways sprinkled throughout. If you missed the opt-in form at the end of the video, here it is again.

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Why is It So Hard For Teenagers to Feel Good About Their Appearance and How Parents Can Help?

Why is It So Hard For Teenagers to Feel Good About Their Appearance and How Parents Can Help?

 

In this video Lauren Muriello, LPC of Well Being Therapy Center discusses why it can be so difficult for teenagers to feel o.k. about their physical appearance. She points out the illusions society continually feeds us regarding what people should look like, and reminds us how important it is for parents to help their children understand what’s real and what’s not real.

Look in your own life. Who are the real people in your life? … Your parents, your grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings, teachers, friends. This is what real people look like.

 

Teenagers, will always be comparing themselves to others to see how they measure up, but by getting them to think differently about who they are comparing themselves to, maybe we have a chance to help have a more realistic assessment about what people look like, and ultimately help them feel a little better about their own physical being” – Lauren Muriello

Realistic self assessment in adolescents

I love her advice to tell our kids that if they have to compare themselves to anyone, they should choose real people in their lives rather than compare themselves to people they see in the movies or advertisements.

Lauren also stresses the importance for parents to try to deemphasize physical appearance and reemphasize our children’s talents and who they are on the inside. Help them spend more time doing things they enjoy, rather than staring in the mirror picking themselves apart.

I don’t know why it is so hard for anyone, particularly teenage girls, to feel o.k. about their appearance, but we know that advertising companies are not going to help, and Lauren has some practical advice to help parents help their teenagers to give themselves a break when judging their  appearance.

The impact on girls

Today teenage girls are being taught that they can be anything they want. Studies show that today girls feel more empowered to be anything they want more than ever before and they are seizing opportunities closed to previous generations .

They believe they have equal opportunities at school to be leaders, top students, get the jobs they want, etc. but, (and this is a very big but), somehow they are still getting the message that what they look like matters more than anything else they might do. This message is not unique to the U.S.

In an article written by Claire Cain Miller and published in the N.Y. Times on 9/14/18, Miller sites a new nationally representative poll of 1,000 children and adolescents age girls 14 to 19, that showed that while girls feel equal to boys in just about every way, it’s not true when it comes to their bodies.

Three-quarters of those polled felt judged as a sexual object and unsafe as a girl. By far, they felt that society considered physical attractiveness to be the most important physical trait for a girl. It should be noted that surveys have found that not just teenage girls, but adult women also feel the same way.

Deborah Tolman, a psychology professor at the City University of New York who researches adolescent sexuality, said …

This is the contradiction we put in front of girls: You should be confident, and do well in school and do athletics, but your supposed to also be a good sex object at the same time. -Deborah TolmanClick To Tweet

What about boys?

I don’t think boys get a free ride when it comes to their bodies and physical appearance. Teenage boys feel pressure to have the “perfect body,” which is to be both lean and have large muscles.

The number of teen males dissatisfied with their bodies has tripled in the past 25 years and men now account for 1 in 4 eating disorders , 95% of which begin in adolescence.

So, I think everything that Lauren recommends parents do to help their teenage children goes for boys as well as girls.

“Parenting and Digital Technology” Video Series

I do hope you get a chance to watch the video above and opt-in for the whole series. I think there are some some good takeaways sprinkled throughout. If you missed the opt-in form at the end of the video, here it is again.

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