Night falls on the first day at summer camp; the big opening campfire is over, the troop has returned to the campsite, the Scouts are preparing for taps. Just after we end the Patrol Leader’s Council a young scout, at camp for his first time, is wandering around the edge of a pool of lantern light.
I know exactly why he is there; he and his brethren have been there for twenty plus years – he is one of my homesick Scouts.
Homesickness can be light and passing or dark and difficult. When separated from familiar surroundings or people for an extended period scout aged-boys may become homesick. Homesickness manifests as a sense of dread or helplessness manifesting in depression, sadness, frustration, anger or hopelessness. Extreme cases may even cause physical symptoms like stomach pain, indigestion, headaches, nausea and tears.
A smart Scoutmaster understands that homesickness, while relatively easy to cure in a vast a majority of cases, is a very real problem and it should not be trivialized. I must admit that I have been guilty of less than sensitive ways of handling homesickness; here are some more successful strategies
Have a discussion with parents that lays out your expectations for camp. I include this paragraph in our pre-camp flier:
Parents are expected to support their Scout’s commitment to spend a full week at camp. There is a full schedule of shared responsibilities that begins on the Sunday we arrive and continues unbroken until we leave a week later.
If a Scout must arrive late, leave early or spend time out of camp during the week please let us know as early as possible so the corresponding arrangements can be made. That being said arriving late, leaving early or spending time away from camp during the week is actively discouraged as it tends to compromise the experience not only for the individual Scout but for the rest of his Troop.
A week at camp is often the longest time our first year Scouts have spent away from home and family. It is natural that some Scouts find this experience difficult to endure (as do their parents). Our experience with hundreds of Scouts (and parents) of all temperaments assures us that they not only endure, but flourish and return home having gained a great deal from the experience.
Experts recommend bringing a couple of mementos from home such as photos serve as transitional objects that will help relieve uncomfortable feelings.
- Talking – Homesickness involves feelings of dread and helplessness that often dissolve simply by talking them out.
- Stay Active – Staying active and involved is important. Homesick scouts are often reluctant to participate in much of anything. Make very effort to keep them active.
- Stay Engaged – Loneliness feeds homesickness. Encourage lots of group activities and responsibilities. I often ask an older scout to see that the homesick scout is actively engaged.
- Writing or Calling Home – Writing home is helpful, but actually speaking to someone is better. Before putting Scouts on the phone I speak to parents first explaining the situation and making sure they support the idea the scout staying at camp.
College counselors and chaplains report that some freshmen students experience homesickness serious enough to effect their studies. If scouts overcome homesickness at an early age they will be better prepared for these experiences.