Social connections and debunking loneliness. Camp Matters.
When the shelter in place occurred this past March the entire world shut down and the majority of us went into a state of shock and disbelief. Everyday lives were restructured – including how we interact with one another and connect. With all of the chaos around us, the first question out of my Lenox Camper’s mouth was, “Mom, we are still going to Lenox, right?” Looking at her with tears filling my eyes, I replied, “I don’t know.” However, this I DID know. Regardless if camp happened or not, the bond of the Lenox family would still hold strong.
As a scientist in the School of Public Health, Indiana University-Bloomington, I examine the importance of quality of life and social connections on health outcomes, including the camp experience. Therefore, I was keenly aware of the health ramifications of this pandemic beyond the spread of the disease. For the record, I am 100% against social distancing. I am, however, 100% for physical distancing with meaningful social connections. As Cacioppo and Patrick explain in 2009, for millions of years humans have depended on living within social groups as a form of survival. In earlier years, humans who disconnected from the group found that the loneliness and social isolation caused them to die. We are social creatures meant to connect; to form our tribe of people.
The impact of the camp experience on overall quality of life has been well documented for years. When scholars, including the American Camping Association, looked at post camp experiences, camp has the most significant impact on positive social skills, independence and resilience. The research reconfirms what we know as parents of Lenox campers – camp matters making our youth more resilient with stronger social connections that follow them throughout their life. The Lenox family is our TRIBE.
In 2015 Time magazine stated loneliness was going to emerge as the biggest health care crisis of our time. They might have nailed it. How powerful this prediction occurred 5 years before we ever would have imagined a global pandemic further separating people. Coupled with the tragedy and fear of the pandemic, our youth are experiencing less social interaction with peers and more loneliness - which has been on the rise with young adults for years due to social media. Although social connections through technology is good; it does not replace the in person interaction experienced at camp.
To address the public health care crisis of COVID-19, it is going to take more than wearing a mask. Public health researchers are busy examining the whole child and how each of the dimensions of wellness (social, emotional, financial, environmental, physical, intellectual) impacts our health today and for years to come. It is going to take addressing how to stay socially connected, what makes us happy and keeping our mental health in check. The Lenox family is more important than ever to the health of our campers. The pandemic has shifted the camp experience; but it has not broken the bond we all have. See you all at the rock ceremony in 2021.
By Jenny Hanson-Piatt
Cacioppo, J.T. & Patrick, W. (2009). Loneliness: Human nature and the need for connection. W. W. Norton & Company.
Worland, J. (2015). Why loneliness may be the next be public health issue. Time Magazine, March 8, 2015.