Dear Therapist:

My 13-year-old daughter is an intense child. She puts a lot of pressure of herself academically and school is a big deal for her. All of her friends are going to (overnight) camp this summer and initially she had us register her as well. She is now insisting that she wants to stay home for the summer and "relax." She says she works hard all year, and she just wants a chance to have nothing to do. It is interesting that it doesn't seem to bother her that her friends are all going. She is not the leader of the group but generally really likes being a part of things. I don't think that she will have anyone around this summer, and I am worried about her being home with nothing to do for 2 months. That being said the fact that she generally does so well and does put so much pressure on herself makes me resistant to forcing her to go to camp which is not obligatory. As camp is about to charge my credit card a sizeable amount of money, I would appreciate your comments on how big a deal I should make of this and how important you think camp is for a girl her age? I also wonder what you think might really be going on here (though she seems to just mean what she says) and what you could suggest for getting to the bottom of it. 

Thanks in advance. 



You know your daughter and her needs. However, when we are being subjective, our viewpoint is often skewed. While I may be able to give good advice to others (if I do say so myself), the advice that I give to myself may be contaminated by my triggers, fears, and insecurities.

Sometimes, imagining a friend asking for our advice in similar circumstances can help us to more objectively analyze the situation. However, it can be difficult for us to discern logical, objective opinions from emotional, subjective feelings. You may be overthinking the reasons for your daughter’s change of mind about overnight camp and overestimating the impact of her staying home. Or there may be something more going on.

Nothing is cut and dried. Our thoughts and emotions are inextricably intertwined, so there is almost always some measure of unconscious drive combined with logical thought. There are likely at least some emotional factors influencing your daughter’s decision to remain home. The question is whether these are emotions that she will work through on her own, or whether they are indicative of a larger problem.

There are a few questions that I would ask. From what is she relaxing? Is it simply the schoolwork itself, or is there perhaps some anxiety associated with school? Why does she place so much academic pressure on herself? Is it partly to feel positively toward herself? Are anxiety or other adverse emotions associated with the socialization aspect of school—or with your daughter’s socialization in general? Is she also craving a break from the need to socialize? If so, is this the case with regard to a specific person or persons, or is it a general feeling?

Did something change from when your daughter decided to go to camp to when she changed her mind? Did she become more fixated on her schoolwork? Was there anything that made her feel anxious or depressed? Did she have a change of friends, or did she change her socialization patterns? Is there an unconscious fear (or something of which she is aware but is reluctant to tell you) that contributed to her change of mind? Is she afraid of going to camp (especially if this is her first time)? If so, does this relate to possible socialization issues, or to low self-esteem?

These are the types of things that I would try and determine to help your daughter deal through any issues that may be underlying her reasons for not wanting to go to camp. Additionally, if she stays home, what would her daily schedule look like? Would she go to day camp? Would she be socializing? Would her summer be structured? If so—or if not—is this more palatable to her? Why? Your daughter may be willing and able to answer some of these questions if they are appropriately asked.

There are many possible reasons for your daughter’s decision not to go to overnight camp. It is quite possible that many of these reasons play some part in the narrative, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that concern or intervention is necessary. Remember that humans are highly complex, and we all have multiple underlying fears, needs, and insecurities that contribute to most or all of our thoughts and decisions. This is normal. If there is no specific reason to believe that there is a significant emotional factor that is festering, the main reason that your daughter changed her mind may be that she does simply want to unwind.

-Yehuda Lieberman, LCSW

 psychotherapist in private practice

 Brooklyn, NY

 author of Self-Esteem: A Primer / 718-258-5317