Finding New Hope in Virtual Camp

Finding New Hope in Virtual Camp

OTC Summer camp Online

Call it whatever you want, our virtual camp is helping teens through these times.

Like a lot of other businesses, this pandemic has been tough on summer camp people. Most of us spent the first two months of the pandemic worrying whether we would be allowed to open, and this last month many of us realized that it does not make much sense to try and do so.

We were trying to create all sorts of ways to keep COVID 19 out of camp but also knew that our rational thinking can only take us so far when looking for answers to questions that no one currently has the answers to.

Camps that canceled have been angry at camps planning to open, and camps planning to open can find plenty of their own reasons to be angry. COVID 19 often has us feeling scared, helpless, and confused. I think many of us are more comfortable expressing those feelings as anger, than what they really are, fear of living in this world that we can no longer make sense of.

The highway signs near my house say “Stay New York Tough.” I get the idea, but I don’t feel all that tough lately. Confused, stuck, frustrated, scared, but “tough”? not so much…

A new program

Virtual camp activities.

Sample virtual camp schedule at Odyssey Teen Camp.

A few weeks ago we started an online camp program. I’ve heard some people put virtual camp down, saying “It’s not camp!” Well, you can call it what you want, what I’ve seen in the few weeks it’s been running is that it can be pretty great.

Teens are connecting, having fun, and feeling less isolated and alone. We are trying new things, making new friends, and sharing our gifts. We have over thirty-five teenagers registered and I hope we will get a lot more.

There are great people leading unique activities, and great teenagers showing up. Everyone is being included, respected, seen, and heard. We are having fun but also tackling some tough questions about the world we are living in. We are trying to help teens discover more wisdom, truth, and love for themselves and this new world we are all living in.

Different classes each week

This is no joke…

 

Creating this program is a lot of work but I think it’s worth it. I hope we will be able to use it to spend the next several months connecting, learning new skills and discovering more about each other, our world, and the ways we can make it better. OTC has always had some of the most unique summer programming and attracted teens outside the “norm.” Besides computers, our online program is no different.

Virtual camp is still pretty new to us and while it may not be camp the way we know it, I am really glad we are doing it. I recently ran an online sharing circle with my friend Francesca and I’ve been leading sharing circles with teens and adults for a long time and I think this circle felt as helpful and valuable as any other circle I’ve been a part of.

Our online camp is a safe, fun, and an interesting way to connect, support, encourage, and love one another. To me, that makes more sense than trying to hang “New York Tough”.

Summer Camp Online 2020 now in session!

Regretfully we had to cancel camp for 2020 but we now have an online program where teens can jump-in at any time. It may be the perfect way for teens to test the waters and meet the OTC community in a relaxed way. See the video below. Find out more.

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 cabin 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.

Tending the fire

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?”

Seeing through a different lens

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.

Teens in discussion at camp.

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.

Summer Camp Online 2020 now in session!

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, we had to cancel camp for 2020 but we now have an online program where teens can jump in any time. It may be the perfect way for shy or anxious teens to test the waters and meet the community. Watch the video to find out more.

Find out about Odyssey Teen Camp

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

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.

Enter your email to see the entire 8 part video series with Amy Frisch

One short segment will be delivered to your inbox each day for 8 days. Occasional notifications for new videos will follow. Your info is sacred and will never be shared.

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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.

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