SYRACUSE, N.Y. (NCC News)- Following a year of all-time highs in anxiety and depression among children, summer camps in New York are set to reopen, and they can be a big part of getting kids lives back to normal. According to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the CDC, summer camps have the green light to reopen this summer. Although camps may look a little different this summer due to safety guidelines, the reopening of camps could be crucial to getting children healthier both mentally and physically.
This past year has shown record highs in mental health struggles among children, largely in part to the pandemic, isolation, and missing out on social experiences. According to Bob Ditter, a licensed clinical social worker who specialized in children, there has been a 45% increase in the number of young people being diagnosed with anxiety and depression. He also said there has been a 31% increase in emergency room trips as a result of that anxiety and depression. Ditter said summer camp is exactly what kids need.
“Kids need the sort of deep drink of connection, of creativity, of community that camp gives them in order to prepare them for the academic learning that is going to happen later in the year,” Ditter said.
Mental health struggles are not the only thing children have faced this past year. Ditter has also seen physical health problems in children, but he also thinks camp can help fix those.
“I think kids have gained weight,” Ditter said. “I think kids have low muscle tone. I think kids have vitamin D deficiencies because they have masks on and haven’t been in the sun.”
Jan Peneston, director of Camp Talooli in Pennelville, ran a coronavirus-friendly program during the holiday break. She said she noticed the health struggles that kids were in the midst of.
“Kids forgot how to interact with other kids. They were missing those social experiences,” Peneston said. “We saw physically that they didn’t have the stamina because they had been doing a lot of sitting.”
Camps reopening for the summer will improve the mental and physical health of children, and it will also build the character traits that they may not have been able to build this past year. Being on Zoom for school, staying at home, and not seeing people their own age enough has prohibited children from gaining valuable experiences. Christie Ko, director of Camp Fiver in Earlville, said camp activities help shape people.
“The purpose of them is to expose young people to new things and new experiences, but it’s also to cultivate that character,” Ko said.
Camp this summer will also give kids something they have not gotten enough of this year, exposure to kids their age, especially kids of different backgrounds. Throughout the pandemic, kids have not seen other kids, and if they have it has been children that live near them and live similar lives. Mike Preston, owner of Camp Lourdes in Skaneateles, said camp brings people of different backgrounds together.
“You may have the richest kid in Connecticut sleeping in that top bunk and the poorest kid from Skaneateles or Syracuse sleeping in that bottom bunk and it doesn’t matter because they’re at camp,” Preston said.
The mental and physical health struggles that children have had this past year are evident. Camps reopening this summer is a stepping stone back towards the path of normalcy for the New York youth.