Why Kids Don’t Go To Camp: How to Navigate the Fear of the Unknown

Drew Hill April 17, 2021

We’re continuing our “Why Kids Don’t Go To Camp” series by looking at The Top 5 Excuses Kids Make and How to Respond.

  1. My friends aren’t going.
  2. I don’t have the money.
  3. My parents won’t let me.
  4. I have schedule conflicts.
  5. I’m afraid of the unknown.

Today we’re talking about how to address the fear of the unknown

Do you remember the first time you ever got on a school bus? I was excited, but nervous, wondering who I would sit beside. It ended up being a 1st grader named Shane who grossed me out by eating Vaseline. For real. He ate an entire squeezy tube of lip therapy.

We all get nervous when we don’t know what to expect. Heck, even visiting churches is scary, and people are supposed to be nice to you. Can you imagine being at the peak of adolescence? Being at the height of nervousness? And someone asking you to step out of your comfort zone to experience a week of “the unknown?”

And on top of that, since we’re supposed to keep the schedule a surprise, every time a kid asks a question we respond with “I could tell you, but I’d have to kill you.

That might be a little freaky.

How To Alleviate The Fear Of The Unknown

Acknowledge & Empathize

Whether they admit it or not, their fear of the unknown is real. Let them know it’s normal to be anxious. Tell them how you felt the first time you got on a camp bus.

“I remember going to camp when I was a sophomore. I was so worried about who I would sit beside on the bus. I was nervous that if I had to use the bus bathroom the mean guys who always sit in the back would lock me in there. But it ended up being OK. I sat by this kid from another school and we actually became pretty good friends.”

When a 15-year-old hears you say that, they gain confidence in knowing they’re not alone.

Tell Them What They’re Thinking

“I know you might be wondering what the bathroom situation is. Don’t worry, there aren’t any group showers, they actually have pretty nice individual shower stalls, and the TP is 2-ply!”

“I know you might be worried about certain girls forming a clique and leaving you out, but camp is set up to where we do most everything together. And I’ll hang out with you the whole time, even if other girls are mean.”

“I know you are concerned about leaving your mom home alone all week. Since your dad is gone, I know she depends on you to be the man of the house, but your mom wants you to go and experience this. If you don’t, she’ll feel guilty that you stayed home just for her sake.”

You know your middle and high school friends. Pray for them. Ask God to give you wisdom and discernment to understand the mental battles they might be internally fighting.

Tell Them About Camp

Show them a camp video. You can explain a typical day without ruining the surprises. They might think they’re going to have to walk around in a bathing suit all week, and that makes them self-conscious. Explain that afternoon free time is exactly that, time for them to freely choose what activity they want to do.

Explain that you’re not going to ask them to do anything you’re not willing to do yourself. Yes, that means we as leaders must conquer fears as well. I’m still scared of that pamper pole.

Give Them A Taste

Nick and Ray are two of my “non-typical-Younglifey” friends. They don’t wear Fratagonia. They don’t listen to Taylor Swift. They don’t hang in Enos.

When the lax bros and cheer team signed up for camp, it didn’t really motivate them to get in their deposits. An exciting summer for Nick and Ray isn’t spent at the pool. It’s spent at the pool hall. The only thing they are raising money for is a pack of Marlboro Reds.

I was about done with my exhausting efforts to convince them to go to camp. Just before I gave up, I made a phone call.

“Hey [YL Property closest to us]. My name is Drew and I’m a Young Life leader in a town about 2.5 hours away. Is there any chance I can bring two of my high school friends up to camp tomorrow afternoon for free time, dinner, and club? We’ll pay for dinner and leave the property after club. Pretty please? I’m trying to convince them to spend a week at camp, but wanted to whet their appetite.”

“Well, camp is pretty full, but if it’s just three of you and you’re willing to eat work crew meal, come on.”

Our area was going to camp 3rd session at a different property, but Nick, Ray, and I took a day trip during 1st session to the property closest to us. It was much easier to convince them to pay $8 and give up a day than to pay $800 and give up a week.

Do you think they wanted to sign up after they’d spent just 6 hours on a YL property? You guessed correctly. I know it’s not possible for everyone to do, but if you can give them a taste, they’ll be hungry for more.

*Not all YL properties can accommodate such requests, so if you call, do so with hope, but without expectation.

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