The registration deadline for the fifth-grade science camp was looming. Many parents view the school science camp as a rite of passage from fifth grade to middle school—a transition from child to pre-teen.
Even though I disliked the idea of a four-day, overnight camp for my 11-year-old son, I prepared myself for the science camp conversation. As I sat down on my son’s bed to talk, he announced abruptly, “Mom, I do not want to go to science camp.”
Even though I wanted to belt out my best version of “Walking on Sunshine” when my son declared his opposition to camp, I bit my tongue. I was skeptical about this four-day, overnight camp (especially since Covid was still lurking around), but I wanted this to be his choice. Whether to attend science camp is a pivotal decision for a fifth-grader, especially after a long period of isolation from friends due to a global pandemic. I heard my son’s words, but at that moment, I had my doubts about his decision.
Why? Two reasons.
One, peer pressure is a powerful force. For many children, the pressure to conform to the norm can be overwhelming. Classmates were already questioning my son and other students who had not signed up: “Everyone else is going to science camp, so what’s wrong with you? Why wouldn’t you go?”
Would this pressure be too much for my son to bear?
Second, I hoped my son would not regret his decision. I would have hated an overnight camp when I was 11 years old, and I cringed at the thought of him being away from home. However, I wanted this to be his decision—one made after careful consideration of the details and options. Would he regret missing camp activities or bonding with his friends in a new environment? These preteen years are formative, soul-searching, thrilling, and terrifying.
It is critical to talk with our children about the challenges of making hard choices.
Even if we are reluctant to admit it, our peer’s opinions influence us every day. I want my son to understand that he can make a different choice when he is uncomfortable. Whether the choice involves science camp, a relationship, sports, alcohol, or drugs, I want my son to understand he does not have to follow the crowd.
I want my son to know he is brave when he stands by his decision even when it is unpopular. Making a choice that brings you joy and calm, instead of anxiety and stress, should be celebrated. Otherwise, what message are we sending to our children? Should we encourage them to follow the route of their peers even if it brings them anguish and unhappiness?
I doubt any parent truly wants that for their child.
As we continue our conversation about science camp, I listen closely when my son pleads his case. I see the worry in his eyes and hear the anxiety in his voice. My son is letting down his guard and opening his heart about a significant decision in his life.
He is courageous by moving out of his comfort zone and sharing his thoughts with me.
My response to my son is simple, “I hear you, and I am proud of you for making this decision. I understand. You do not have to go to science camp.” The relief in his expression brought tears to my eyes.
My son, you are loved. You can be the unique, beautiful person you are. You do not need science camp to learn science.
Let us celebrate our children for who they are. Let us praise and respect our children for being brave and making tough choices.
I am proud of my son and admire his decision about science camp. During the week of the school science camp, I spent an unforgettable week with my son. We created our own mother-son science camp by hiking and exploring two California state parks and one national park. Vivid memories of our adventures are engraved in my mind. I would not trade that week with my courageous son for anything in the world. My heart is full.