(847) 579- 9317 support@copingpartners.com

Michelle WintersteinMichelle Winterstein is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker at Coping Partners, a practice dedicated to supporting children, adolescents, and families through emotional and behavioral challenges. Michelle received her Master of Social Work degree with honors from New York University and has extensive experience in both hospital and outpatient settings. She specializes in working with young children, adolescents, and their parents, addressing issues such as behavioral problems, anxiety, and social pressures. Michelle also has experience in childhood obesity and is trained in motivational interviewing and change readiness.



Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:

  • [0:48] How camps provide a critical digital detox for today’s youth
  • [2:21] The impact of visual social media on childhood development
  • [3:19] How real-world relationships at camp benefit emotional health
  • [7:24] Strategies to prepare kids for the homesickness camp may bring
  • [10:20] Why parents should not rescue kids from uncomfortable camp situations
  • [13:20] Reframing camp challenges as opportunities for growth

In this episode…

In today’s digitally driven world, children are constantly bombarded by social media, impacting their mental and emotional well-being. How can a summer camp experience transform your child’s development and independence?

According to Dr. Leigh Weisz, a licensed clinical psychologist, sending kids to overnight camp provides a crucial digital detox, freeing them from the pressures of social media. She highlights how children at camp engage in real-world interactions and build meaningful relationships unburdened by online comparisons. Michelle Winterstein adds that camp also fosters independence, as kids make decisions and resolve conflicts without parental intervention. These experiences equip children with essential life skills and boost their confidence, preparing them for future challenges.

In this episode of The Coping Podcast, Dr. Leigh Weisz and Michelle Winterstein discuss the transformative benefits of overnight camp for kids. They dive into the importance of a social media detox, the development of independence, and how parents can support their children’s resilience from a distance. Tune in to discover practical tips and insights on maximizing your child’s growth throughout the camp experience.

Resources Mentioned in this episode

Special Mentions:

Quotable Moments:

  • “Summer camps are the strongest medicine against the epidemic of youth mental illness.”
  • “At camp, kids are on the same playing field — a respite from FOMO and social media comparisons.”
  • “Kids are growing up fast with the influence of technology. Camp helps them live the day for themselves.”
  • “Camp experiences are preparing kids for life, far beyond a summer adventure.”
  • “Parents need to trust their children and the camp’s capable adults.” 

Action Steps:

  1. Create space for unstructured play: Encourage kids to engage in activities that don’t involve screens or scheduled outcomes. It allows them to develop creativity and decision-making skills.
  2. Normalize and discuss emotional challenges like homesickness: Openly communicating about feelings can build emotional intelligence and resilience. There is a need to normalize homesickness as part of camp and life experiences.
  3. Implement a “digital detox” period in daily life: Designate tech-free times at home to replicate the screen-free environment of camps. This helps mitigate anxiety and over-reliance on technology for social validation.
  4. Advocate for independence: Gradually increase the responsibilities given to children, allowing them to make small decisions independently. This fosters independence and confidence, key components of the camp experience.
  5. Engage in active problem-solving: Encourage kids to brainstorm solutions to issues instead of immediately stepping in to help. This promotes coping skills and autonomy.

Sponsor for this episode…

This episode is brought to you by Coping Partners.

Coping Partners is a mental health practice dedicated to helping children, adolescents, and adults manage various challenges including anxiety, divorce, behavioral issues, relationship problems and much more in the Chicago suburbs.

Our practitioners are devoted to building on our clients’ strengths and bolstering weaknesses.

To gain insight and tools for getting unstuck check out our website at CopingPartners.com, email us at support@copingpartners.com.

To register for future webinars, please go to this link to be alerted: https://copingpartners.com/campwebinar/

Episode Transcript:

Intro 0:01

Welcome to The Coping Podcast where we share strategies for coping with the stressors of life, especially the difficulties of parenting. And here is your host, Dr. Leigh Weisz.

Dr. Leigh Weisz 0:15

This is a special episode. This is a clip from a webinar we presented called Unlocking the Camp Experience: Essential Ways Parents Can Maximize Their Child’s Growth. Just a quick disclaimer, the information provided is for educational and informational purposes only. This is not intended to provide mental health treatment and does not constitute a client therapist relationship. The information provided is not a replacement for being assessed and evaluated by a licensed professional and is not intended to replace mental health or medical advice.

Dr. Leigh Weisz 0:48

The fourth benefit that we want to share that you got from going to overnight camp is digital detox. And I know this is a favorite for many parents. Again, you know, same author, Jonathan Haidt, who I’m referring to all that clearly, you have to read the book, if you haven’t already. He refers to summer camps is the strongest medicine against the epidemic of youth mental illness. He feels like kids are spending too little time exploring the real world without parents, and too much time exploring the online world, which is actually more unsafe than the real world at camp, the dilemma that parents always face of like, how do I handle this because if my kids the only one not on social media, they’re going to be left out. At Camp, nobody has access to screens. So there is no FOMO you don’t have to worry about that. Adults don’t have to worry about it. And kids don’t have to worry about it. Nobody’s left out. All of kids are on the same even playing field. Again, kids are growing up too fast because of the influence of technology. And because of certain social media, like you know, Instagram and tic tac that promote likes, our kids are growing up, really worrying too much about what other people think instead of just living the day for themselves. They’re taking pictures of themselves, they’re filtering it for others validation. So at camp with digital detox, they get respite from comparisons and social media. It’s really freeing.

Michelle Winterstein 2:21

Kids are teenagers before they can even spell the word teenager. And they’re hyper fixated on the latest skincare trends and their appearances, including taking selfies and posting videos of themselves. They’re constantly striving to prove to others that they are quote on trend. This social media presence at such a young age creates more anxiety and is truly detrimental to them in more ways than one. When kids are at camp, they no longer need to think about what their friends might be doing without them or what they are wearing and what image they are presenting to the world. Their friends are there with them in person, and they start to disconnect from the screen based persona and begin to discover exactly who they are. While this topic could truly be a presentation on its own social media has single handedly robbed our youth of many defining childhood moments, which has led to so many skill deficits at camp, kids are engaging in only face to face interactions and developing skills, they will need to interact with others forever. These are basic life skills that are far too many are lacking.

Dr. Leigh Weisz 3:19

So anyone who’s ever seen a child and their electronics knows it’s like a vacuum, it’s a time suck, right? They could spend hours and be totally content. So without this time suck, that technology really is for kids. They spend that same time in real world relationships, they’re giving hugs to their friends, they’re doing those hand games that are really in sync with each other. They’re singing songs around a campfire, they’re doing silly cheers, instantly costumes, right. And so in these embodied relationships, they’re creating deeper and more meaningful relationships that are actually fulfilling to them emotionally, because they’re engaged in this way. Very, very different from how it feels to be engaged in kind of a superficial group chat. So again, it at camp kids can be really present with their relationship, in part because of this digital detox. And finally, the last top benefit that we’re going to talk about tonight for Child Development of sending your kids to overnight camp is gaining the skill of being independent and learning how to be independent from their parents.

Michelle Winterstein 4:26

So while it can kids get practice making decisions, conflict resolution, emotion regulation, without their parents present in an environment that’s also supportive and safe? Over the years, social psychologists have seen a shift in parenting practices. This is partly due to the misconception that the world is so much more unsafe than it used to be. And it certainly does feel that way sometimes. Well, at one time, the expectation was for kids to haul water to obtain a family necessity. Now, so many parents are hesitant to even allow their kids to walk a few blocks to the local store without supervision. This different parenting style is something we’ve all grown up asked him to. But unfortunately, this bubble wrapping of our kids, as you will, has really backfired, are now left with generations that are unequipped to handle not just adversity, but even basic life skills. camp is a great opportunity for both children and parents to get out of this habit of constant contact, and especially for parents constant reassurance that their kids are okay.

Dr. Leigh Weisz 5:21

Parents in this generation also have the potential to lose themselves because our lives seem a little bit too centered around our kids. It almost seems sometimes like the more time you spend with your kids or doing things for your kids, the better a parent you are, of course, we know this is not true. But it is how it feels in this parenting generation. And so parents end up losing time for their own hobbies, their own spouses, their own friends, work, and so forth. And so is a time where your kids are away at camp can be refueling to parents as well. It is a time to connect with spouses, family, friends, even with yourself. So in my practice, I see some empty nesters I see some parents of kids who are off to college for the first time. And when the parents become empty nesters, often it’s very common that they feel a loss of a sense of purpose. What do they do with their time? How do they connect with their spouse in this new way, right, they feel like they don’t have anything in common anymore with that person. And so again, the time where your kids go to overnight camp is really a good time to practice creating a space for yourselves independent of your kids. The same is true for kids I’ve worked with who go off to college for the first time. So people who are going to be freshmen in college, those who’ve been away from home at summer camp even once even if they weren’t like lifetime campers, they feel more confident when it’s time to handle this separation than kids who really only been away from home for maybe two nights taps. So again, this is great practice for kids and for parents to kids also learn to cope with disappointment without being rescued. Right. It’s very, very different being at camp and being away from parents because when the stressors happen, parents are not there to swoop in and fix every little problem. So kids have to learn how to cope without parents help.

Michelle Winterstein 7:24

Okay, so now we get to the good stuff. Even though your children may be miles away, there are still things that you can do to boost their resilience from a distance. Some of this comes in the form of being okay doing absolutely nothing at all. So in this next part of our presentation, the four ways parents can boost their child’s resilience from a distance are one, prep your camper and yourself. Let go resist the temptation to micromanage from afar, promote healthy separation, independence and prolong the benefits of camp after summer’s over. The first way parents can boost their child’s experience from a distance is by preparing your camper and your shelf.

Dr. Leigh Weisz 8:00

So hopefully by now, if you’re watching this webinar, you have already made the decision to send your child to camp because you feel like they’re ready. But now we can discuss with you how you can prepare children for overnight camp in a way that’s really constructive. And there are things you can work on now at home with your child to ensure that they’re really ready. For example, you know, your child is going to be brushing their teeth and showering independently, make sure they really know how to do it without you actually showing them the places they’re missing, how to rinse the conditioner out of their hair, you’re not going to be there to remind them to have a good breakfast. So talk with them about the importance of you know give giving their body the fuel that they’ll need to last all day running around at camp. Help them understand that they need to drink water to wear sunscreen and things like that. Make sure they know that they can ask adults for what they need and give them some practice speaking up for themselves without your help. Starting now, are they ordering for themselves if they’re getting food at a restaurant, and also provide experiences for them to be separate from parents, just so they have a sense of competence that they can handle it.

Michelle Winterstein 9:16

So prepare your child for homesickness if your child is expressing fears or hesitations about camp, you want to appropriately address these is this as a normal way that they’re preparing themselves and processing this upcoming new experience. With that being said, we don’t want the fears to go bigger than needed. So find a worry time this is something we often recommend in practice. To discuss these fears or write down a log or a camp director can address the questions or concerns or worries before camp starts. So a child feels heard and validated. It’s okay even a good thing if you don’t have all the answers, because thankfully the people at camp will and you’re showing your child that you trust the camp to help them navigate situations that may arise. come up with solutions and we always recommend recommend making sure that the child As a part of this process, ideally with the camp director as well and not just the parents, so you’re kind of working as a team. For example, a future campers can still have nothing to eat for breakfast because they’re a picky eater. A solution could easily be getting a list of foods that they’ll be served at breakfast and then the child can pick some of these targeted foods they’re willing to try before the camp starts.

Dr. Leigh Weisz 10:20

Okay, we put a quote up this up on the screen about homesickness being the norm rather than the exception. And we and we said a whopping 83% of the campers studied reported homesickness to some degree. Make sure you talk to your kids ahead of time and that they know that it is 100% normal to feel homesick at certain points throughout the summer to varying degrees. While it is uncomfortable to feel this feeling of homesickness, again, remind your kiddos before camp even begins, that feelings cannot hurt you, and maybe come up with some things that they can do when they’re feeling that way. I also like to help kids imagine the times that they are most likely to feel homesick, even though if we’re wrong. That’s great. And of course, we tell the child that’s great if you don’t feel during these times, but most kids who feel homesickness feel it during unstructured time like rest hour before bed, for sure when their parents leave after visiting day. Those are some predictable ones. And of course, they might feel them at other times too. And so think about what they might do. If they’re feeling this way during during one of those times. Maybe they would do spring string bracelets with a friend work on a crossword puzzle, read a book, talk to their counselor, and again encourage them to share their feelings with someone they identify as a supportive other account. This is a little snippet from a graphic novel called Camp. And I chose this to put up here because the little girl with the blonde here, says to her counselor, she’s feeling homesick, she misses her mom, and she wants to call her mom. And the camp counselor appropriately says no, I’m so sorry, sweetie, you know, home phone calls are only for emergencies, or I’m sure there’s specific times at this camp. But if you’re missing your mom, you could write her a postcard and I was actually going to send some postcards to why don’t we write them together. And in this situation, this helps this little girl to write a letter and feel connected to her mother. And there’s nothing wrong with that intervention. It’s a beautiful one. I wanted to point out though, that sometimes the opposite is true. So some kids when they read letters actually feel more homesick. I had a kiddo once in therapy, and she came home with a stack of unopened letters from her mom. She told her mom at the end of the summer when the mom said what is this, you know, unpacking the duffels that it made her too sad to see her mom’s handwriting. And so after she realized this after the first few letters, she just decided not to open them anymore. And she put them in her duffel bag for the way home for you know for after camp. So don’t be insulted. If your child isn’t writing to you. It’s actually pretty smart and insightful. If a kiddo realizes that this is a strategy that works for them, and they may not write to you either. If writing makes them feel sad, you know just the act of it. So they might only do those few that are required.

Michelle Winterstein 13:20

Refrain from making promises to rescue kids from discomfort instill competence and trust in the camp and those adults that run the camp. It’s not unheard of for parents of overnight camp campers to receive a letter begging to be picked up to never return to camp again. Whether the culprit is home sickness and injury, a fight with a friend. Desperate moments can cause us to do desperate things. There is even an Instagram page devoted to these letters as they are often not just dramatic, but also funny in nature. I will always remember my own cousin who is now a Greenbrae. Writing home is only friends where the camp goats have no fear he went on to have a long and wonderful camp experience. However, it can make us his parents feel better and momentarily ease the anxiety of our children to promise to pick them up if they’re ever struggling or unhappy. Stop yourself. You need to have competence in your children and trust in the camp. And the capable adults who run it. Camp is not supposed to be and it’s not going to be a perfect experience. The goal is not to be happy all the time, your camper will be put in uncomfortable positions. That’s part of camp just like silly, wonderful, happy moments and experiences are a part of it as well. And that’s a major reason why kids benefit from the camp experience. And this is where the growth happens. Think for one moment about a time in your life when something didn’t go your way. But looking back you grew from it. Hopefully you all have some experience in mind. But we’ve all had times in our life where we felt disappointment, sadness, frustration, but after we tolerated those feelings, ultimately we benefited because we made the best of the situation and had a positive outlook. For example, a cabin placement that doesn’t look perfect on paper. or a disappointing role in the camp play, having a fight with a best friend or getting strep throat the second week of camp without parents there, the possibilities may seem endless, but these bumps in the road actually are opportunities for significant growth. And they need to be reframed. As such, if you parents intervene and call camp. When you become aware of these hurdles, you’re sending a message to your child that you don’t have confidence that they can handle the situation. And you’re also taking away an opportunity for growth, meddling, and camp decisions not only undermines the leaders at camp that you have entrusted your child with. It also negates the many potential benefits of camp, which we reviewed at the beginning of the presentation.

Dr. Leigh Weisz 15:40

I was just going to add one thing here, which is that we’re teaching kids to sort of sit with these difficult feelings at camp. We’re talking about the benefits of that. And we’re asking parents to do the same thing. And we’ve Michelle and I have been here on the parent and we got it. It’s really hard if you get one of those letters or if you hear that voice in a phone call. But sitting with those emotions is important for parents too.

Outro 16:03

Thank you for listening to The Coping Podcast. We’ll see you again next time, and be sure to click Subscribe to get future episodes and check out our podcast page at copingpartners.com.