I Believe Summer Camps Should Be Single-Sex
My daughter went to sleepaway camp for six summers. The first year, she was somewhat homesick, but over time, camp became her happy place — away from homework, tests and the frenzied schedule of school-year activities. At camp, she felt carefree. She acted goofy, dressed in costumes and sang songs unapologetically off-key, all without fear of judgement or concern about looking foolish in someone’s Instagram story (after all, no phones are allowed at camp.) Her bunkmates became like sisters. Why was her experience so special? If you ask me, it’s because her camp was girls-only. Yep, it may seem old-fashioned, but I’m a firm believer in single-sex summer camps.
Anna Morin, director of Camp Timer Tops, an all-girls camp in Pennsylvania, tells SheKnow that “for many parents and campers, a single-sex camp is a welcome escape from the fast-paced world of social pressures which culturally seems to be happening younger and younger.” And I know that’s what my daughter experienced. Here are even more reasons in the “pro” camp for single-sex camps.
The atmosphere is low-key
When we were visiting summer camps, we didn’t have our minds set on a single-sex environment. But we immediately liked the vibe at the all-girls camp we ultimately chose. I remember during our tour, the director said, “Appearances matter less here,” and I knew we’d found the right place.
My daughter was a middle schooler, only 10 years old, and still had to be coaxed to take a shower and brush her hair, so this observation didn’t seem relevant at the time. Years later, the point that director was trying to make really hit home. As my daughter matured, she did become far more focused on her appearance when she got ready for school. But at camp, those concerns seemed virtually non-existent.
At single-gender camp, there is often less social pressure. Andrea Bastiani Archibald, whose admirable job title is “chief girl and family engagement officer” at Girl Scouts of the USA (GSA) tells SheKnows, “When you look at current news about all the pressures on girls these days, a single-gender camp is an even more valuable opportunity to provide girls with a healthy place for development — away from social media and the sometimes superficial sense of identity [it fosters].” Morin adds.
They create safe spaces
The single-gender environment changes the way both campers and counselors behave. Studies by the Girl Scout Research Institute show that “girls value girls-only ‘safe spaces’ where they can confide in trusting adults and other girls.” The sisterly environment the all-girls camp created for my daughter was empowering at an impressionable stage of her development. She shared so much more of herself with her bunkmates at camp than she did with many of her year-round friends at home. I’m not sure if this was a result of just being away from home or the all-girl space or both, but the combination made her more much comfortable sharing her secrets and fears with peers.
My daughter also developed strong relationships with her counselors, who provided her with great role models. As Morin explains to SheKnows, “Our counselors don’t feel social pressure to dress a certain way or act a certain way or look over their shoulder while coaching soccer or instructing yoga. It allows them to focus on activities and on their campers and not on gendered stereotypes of how they’re meant to act or meant to look.”
They foster an environment for healthy risk-taking
GSA’s most recent study, From Girl Scout Camp To Real-World Champ! How Girl Scouting in the Great Outdoors Builds Female Leaders, shows that “in an all-girl environment, girls feel supported and more comfortable trying new things, taking appropriate risks, and learning from failure.” The study also shows in girl-only setting gives girls the freedom “to talk about issues they wouldn’t necessarily talk about with boys” and to “experience less pressure to look or act a certain way.”
Single-gender camps can also help kids and teens with body-positivity and self-image. It’s so common for kids to develop body issues as they hit puberty, and these issues can manifest even more strongy in the summer, with all that “beach body” pressure. Feeling self-conscious about their bodies can result in young people feeling shy and unwilling to take risks, especially when members of the opposite sex — ie, those who have quite different bodies — are present. Archibald tells SheKnows, “In a girls-only environment, they may feel more secure putting on a bathing suit…and more willing to try new activities such as hiking, rafting or rock climbing without fear of embarrassment.”
Boys can benefit, too
Single-sex camps are not just for girls. Jared Shapiro, owner and director of Camp Winadu, an all-boys camp in Massachusetts, tells SheKnows, “Teenagers today are more connected than ever through social media which often leads to immense social pressure. For boys, attending a single-sex camp can be and is often a deep breath and break for them.”
Shapiro believes that this is a misconception that all-boys camps would endorse a hyper-competitive environment. He says, “It is actually quite the opposite. Single-gender camps provide boys with an environment where both the overt and subtle pressures they feel at home or at school. Boys can just be boys without judgment; they tend not to care who is the best or who runs the fastest. The focus is on their friendships. They can be silly, sing and dance without concern about being ‘cool’ or worrying about the social factors.”
When it comes to choosing between a co-ed or single gender camp, the most important factor is understanding your child. Eileen Kennedy-Moore, Ph.D. and author of many books, including Kid Confidence, tells SheKnows. “For individual children, a single-gender camp could be a wonderful way to foster close friendships in a new context, perhaps without the pressure of trying to be attractive to the other sex.” For my own daughter, I believe her summers spent at all-girls camp shaped her to become the confident woman she is today. And while today’s emphasis on creating a gender-neutral environment may make a single-gender camp might sound antiquated, Morin points out, “An all-girls camp creates a certain freedom from gendered expectations despite its obvious gender-specific angle.”
To find a Girl Scout camp anywhere around the country, go to Girl Scout Camp Finder.
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