Dr. Suzanne Vaillancourt is an emergency room pediatrician who has seen firsthand the impact the pandemic has had on youth in Montreal. She explains why she feels it is especially important for kids to go to camp this summer.
As a pediatrician, what do you see as the benefits of camp for kids?
There are so many advantages to children attending camp. It provides kids the opportunity to develop autonomy, self-confidence and interpersonal skills. Socialization and physical activity are essential for both physical and mental development during childhood and camp provides a wonderful environment to develop skills, make friends and be physically active.
Do you think it is especially important for kids to go to camp this summer given the past year?
The pandemic measures have had a significant impact on the physical and psychological health of children and adolescents. I think this year, more than ever, kids need to have the opportunity to attend camp.
So many children feel screen fatigue because of the tremendous amount of time they have spent online with virtual school and playing video games. With so many of their regular activities cancelled, the default for many kids has been increased screen time.
Camp gives kids the opportunity to unplug and develop technology-free relationships. Many kids have only been able to communicate with their peers through social media, and have not had the opportunity to have face-to-face interaction. Kids and teenagers need a sense of purpose and an opportunity to get off their screens. Summer camp will give them both.
What do you say to parents who are nervous about sending their kids to camp because of the risk of getting Covid-19?
After a year into the pandemic, we know that the risk of severe illness from COVID-19 in children is extremely rare. With increasing vaccination rates and a decrease in the level of COVID-19 in the community, I believe it is safe for kids to attend camp.
Do the benefits of going to camp outweigh the risks?
If strategies are put in place to prevent a child or counsellor arriving at camp with COVID-19, then it is unlikely that a child will acquire the virus at camp. In addition, many summer activities occur outside, where the risk of transmission is lower. The risk will never be zero, but the benefits of camp, especially after a year of social isolation and decreased physical activity, definitely outweigh the risks.
What are some of the health issues you have seen more of this past year?
We have seen an increase in isolation, obesity and sedentariness, as well as a significant increase in eating disorders. The increased screen time has led to more psychological distress and has affected how kids are learning.
Adolescents have found it particularly difficult. So much of their development and growth occurs with social interactions through team sports, art or other extracurricular activities, all of which have been absent from their lives.
I remarked to a colleague the other day that I send my COVID-positive young patients home because they are doing so well, and admit the psychologically distressed ones who are feeling the detrimental effects of a year-long pandemic.
As a mother of four boys, will you be sending your kids to camp this summer?
As a camper myself for six years and a staff member for a further six, I feel the benefits of camp far outweigh the risks of my children getting sick from COVID-19. So, I will definitely be sending them to camp this summer.
The goal of all the restrictions and lockdowns were to protect the vulnerable and prevent the hospitals from being overwhelmed. COVID-19 is not going away and will be in our community for years to come. However, given the vulnerable people will, for the most part, be vaccinated by the summer, the risk that a child attending camp will result in themselves or any of their family members becoming ill with COVID-19 is very low.