Jan 10, 2020
Show notes & links
In this episode, I'm chatting with Dr. Chris Thurber, a
legendary trainer in the camp industry and a clinical psychologist
who works at Phillips Exeter Academy, about how important it for
parents to connect with their teens. Chris has developed online
training programs for educators and youth leaders around the world
and many of the best practices and concepts he teaches apply to
parents. We also discuss how the skills kids learn at camp can help
them to thrive in life.
- Even one summer working at a summer camp can be so valuable for
the experience gained and training in relational, leadership, and
- Much of the training camp counselors receive is helpful for
teachers and parents.
- Thurber's Tic-Tac advice: Expend as little energy as possible,
“no more energy than a Tic-Tac.” Take a break from lecturing or
nagging and instead use the low-energy responses of a look, a
point, or just saying the child’s name.
- In our society today, it is harder than ever to be an
adolescent. One big reason is the competitiveness of education.
Colleges are getting more applications from students around the
world as high school graduation rates continue to climb.
- Parents and students should consider alternatives to college
such as apprenticeships and vocational training.
- Parents need to have more conversations with their kids--girls
and especially boys--about their emotions. Expressing empathy
helps to alleviate the pressure that kids are feeling these days.
When parents minimize or downplay their feelings, kids do not feel
Chris: "The reason I think Happy Campers is a brilliant book is
you've taken the lessons that we get to practice in a very intense
way as camp professionals for, you know, seven, eight, nine weeks
with constant feedback about whether it works or not. And I don't
mean that kids were filling our questionnaires. I mean, they're
either listening or they're not, or they're being compliant or
they're not...It's a wonderful laboratory and classroom for
Chris: "We have an untapped resource in a sense at camp.
Everyone who is lucky enough to be a staff member at a camp is
going to be that much better as a parent. The rest of the world can
benefit from what we've understood about child development and
behavior management, leadership, supervision, physical and
Chris: "Instead of having high school graduates who are excited
about going to college or university, they're starting to feel the
pressure, even in elementary school or early middle school, to set
themselves apart from the crowd, to develop a unique talent, to
begin preparing their resume for college."
Chris: "It's creating a tremendous amount of pressure for
adolescents and that's a problem. They're more anxious, more
depressed. It's taking an emotional toll. Also, we're not
thinking creatively as adults about education broadly construed.
You don't necessarily need a college degree."
Chris: "Apprenticeship is the model we use at summer camp. We
have younger leaders apprenticing with older leaders or younger
counselors with older counselors so you're learning on the job. We
should be applying that to more things."
Chris: "It's awesome if you get a bachelor's degree in English
literature or physics or computer science, but not everyone wants
that, needs that or has that as a career path. And I think we have,
as a society, fallen victim to the perceived prestige of a college
or university degree and completely overlooked expanded
opportunities for vocational training and apprenticeships."
Audrey: "You know that what makes a thriving adult is not a test
score or even a degree from us particular place. It's these
character traits and these interpersonal skills and this emotional
depth and all these things that actually can be counter to when
we're so focused on these specific metrics."
Audrey: "What do you want to be building and growing in yourself
and in the kids you work with? You want people who are going to be
great friends, who are going to stop and help someone who needs
help. When you're so busy climbing your way up to something, you
make decisions and sometimes you're not your best self."
Chris: "I recommend camp because it's the ideal complement to a
traditional or non-traditional classroom setting. You take kids
from being mostly inside and bring them outside. You take kids from
mostly sitting to mostly running around. You take kids from doing
things that have a lot of numbers, quantitative marks associated
with them and put them in less structured, less evaluative
Chris: "It's a way of stretching your brain and building
resilience that will not only relieve stress and boost your mood,
but also make you more resilient to future challenges. Camp is not
the panacea, but it's a huge part of robust youth development."
Chris: "Ask better questions. Students here, like students at a
lot of schools, are really sick of parents asking, what were
your grades? Or if we want to steer clear of performance
markers, what'd you do today? How was school? Those are
well-intentioned questions. They're benign but they're not
nurturing a relationship."
Chris: "There are many students here with wonderful
relationships with their parents. And I think a big key to that is
taking an interest in your child as a person and how are they
unique and how are they evolving, developing rather than continuing
to try to fit them into some mold."
Chris: "Kids need, people need room to be creative and be
themselves. I want parents to encourage, to say that it's okay, who
knows what it will lead to, but it doesn't need to lead to anything
if it feeds your soul. The most authentically happy people in the
world are the ones who tap into one of their signature strengths in
service to other people."
Audrey: "I think there's a lot of value in adults and parents
showing kids what it's like to tap into those things even if it's
different. If they see you doing something you enjoy, they learn
that adults do things they enjoy and they're having fun and they
meet other friends that way. So that modeling is really
Chris: "Model this kind of humility and show your kids, not tell
them, how to live. Show them what it is to balance work and play
and sleep and get a little exercise and model what it's like to
bounce back from failure. If you say something that you realize
didn't have the intended effect or was the wrong thing to say,
don't move on and pretend like nobody heard it. Talk about it, fix
it. If you're enraged, that's not the time to debrief it, but you
can always circle back."
Chris: "Talk with your kids about what your vulnerabilities are.
It's such an important thing to be able to do. For well-intentioned
parents who make missteps, you shouldn't view your kids as fragile.
They can bounce back from something you said or didn't say or
forgot. They need to see you trying hard. They need to see you
learning from mistakes."
Chris: "Provide empathy but when you get to the end of your
empathic statements, full stop, let it sink in. Let your kid
respond. Let them just process the fact that you acknowledged some
of the dimensions of their emotional experience. We are all tempted
to immediately follow our empathic statement with problem-solving.
But when someone is in distress, whether it's they didn't like the
news they heard from a college or the grade they got on a test or
the fact that you know their significant other just broke up with
him by text message, or whatever it might be, they don't want to
hear the solution right now and they probably know what the
solution is anyway."
About Dr. Chris Thurber
Dr. Christopher Thurber enjoys creating and sharing original
content for business leaders, independent educators, and youth
development professionals. He is a board-certified clinical
psychologist, educator, author, and father. Chris earned his BA
from Harvard University in 1991 and a Ph.D. in clinical psychology
from UCLA in 1997.
A dedicated teacher from a young age, Chris has more than 30
years of experience working with camps and independent schools. He
has written numerous book chapters and scholarly
articles on leadership, homesickness, and youth development.
An award-winning contributor to Camping
Magazine and Camp Business, Chris has also
shared his opinions and expertise on national and international
radio, television, print media, podcasts, and webinars, including
The Today Show, Martha Stewart, and CNN.
In 1999, after a two-year post-doctoral fellowship at the
University of Washington School of Medicine, Chris accepted a
position as psychologist and instructor at Phillips Exeter Academy,
a coeducational, independent school in seacoast New Hampshire.
Combining his love of research, teaching, and clinical work,
Chris’s work at Exeter has grown to include publications and
presentations for The Association of Boarding Schools (TABS) the
British Boarding Schools Association (BSA) and the Australian
Boarding Schools Association (ABSA).
Chris has keynoted conferences for all three associations and
has delivered guest lectures on the differences between Chinese and
American public education, as well as the complementary nature of
schools and camps at schools in Beijing, Shanghai, Hangzhou, and
In 2000, Chris and his lifelong friend, Dr. Jon Malinowski,
co-authored the critically acclaimed Summer Camp
Handbook, hailed by psychologist and parent, Dr. John Weisz,
as “a remarkable accomplishment…the best in its field…required
reading for every camper’s family…the most comprehensive and
scientifically sound coverage of the camp experience
The Summer Camp Handbook has since sold tens of
thousands of copies, won a Parenting Press Gold Award, and
been translated into Chinese. As part of his lifelong effort to
enhance the camp experience for young people, Chris has been a
guest on The Today Show, Martha Stewart, CNN, Fox, CBS Morning
News, and NPR.
Chris is the Founder and CEO of CampSpirit, LLC, which provides
consultation and training to professional educators and youth
leaders around the world. As he traveled across five continents to
present in-person staff training workshops, Chris realized that no
directors of summer youth programs had enough time with their
employees to provide all the necessary training prior to opening
day. The increased complexity of health regulations and
accreditation standards, as well as heightened awareness of child
abuse and risk management, made training demands higher than ever,
especially for seasonal employees and volunteers. But with a fixed
period of time during which to conduct on-site training, an
innovative educational solution was imperative.
Chris Thurber Prep4Camp.com
Expert Online Training
David Brook's Road to
Bill Pollack's Real
Teens Need Summer Camp More Than Ever
Ep. 89: The Power of Connection to Build Good Men with Michael
Ep. 92: Creating
Strong Relationships with Teens
Ep. 32: 10
Benefits of Summer Camp for Teens
Ep. 27: Raising
Teens who Thrive with Stephen Wallace
11 Ways to Help Kids Create REAL Connections