BY SHEYDA MIA MELKONIAN, PSY.D.
As summertime is quickly approaching, the majority of us parents are scrambling to determine how to keep our children occupied, entertained, and mentally stimulated in the months to come. One option that is frequently used to achieve all three of these goals is to send our kids to summer camp. The fact that attending summer camp is generally beneficial to children’s emotional and social development has been validated by various research studies over the years and is regularly addressed in the media. However, one point that does not receive as much attention is the importance of selecting the appropriate type of summer camp for your child. Although many Armenian families choose to send their children to American summer camps as a means of helping them assimilate and not grow up in the ‘Armenian bubble’, one of the best ways to ensure that children have a strong sense of self-identity is to provide them with opportunities to establish and maintain a connection with their culture of origin.
Teaching our kids who they are, where they come from, and reminding them to embrace their Armenian identity is important for their personal development and future happiness. A study published in the journal, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, concluded that “cultural identity clarity was positively related to self-concept clarity, self-esteem, and markers of subjective well- being” in undergraduate college students. Additionally, researchers at Michigan State University have found that those who identify with their race more strongly than others tend to be happier overall. “This is the first empirical study we know of that shows a relationship between racial identity and happiness,” said Stevie C.Y. Yap, doctoral candidate in psychology at MSU and lead researcher on the project. This does not mean that we should encourage our kids to only associate with other Armenian children, but it does mean that we need to teach them a sense of what being Armenian encompasses. This includes our history, our language, our struggles, our victories, our goals, and most importantly, our underlying sense of connection with one another. We must give our children the opportunity to associate with a variety of Armenian children/adolescents from different backgrounds to broaden their chances of meeting other Armenians with whom they share similar interests. An ideal setting for all of these elements to take place is in an Armenian summer camp which is tailored to address elements of Armenian history, language, and the opportunity to create social connections.
A common misconception that parents from cultural minorities experience is the idea that their children must assimilate to succeed. If anything, acculturation, not assimilation, will give minority children/adolescents the opportunity to succeed in the dominant culture of the U.S. while maintaining some individuality through their Armenian self-identity. Acculturation allows minorities to evolve by incorporating aspects of the majority culture into their values and belief system while retaining a sense of how their own personal culture makes them unique. It is important to guide our children to acculturate by taking part in, contributing to, and helping grow American society while continuing to identify with our deep rooted Armenian values, traditions, and friendships. We must keep in mind that our children, most of who are second generation immigrants, are naturally geared to identify more-so with American culture as opposed to Armenian culture because that is what society reinforces on a daily basis. They are no longer living in the ‘Armenian bubble’ that some of us in previous generations may have experienced. Therefore, it is important for us to provide the opportunity to experience a week or two completely surrounded by our culture, history and traditions by sending them to Armenian summer camp, knowing fully that when they return, they will go back to the normalcy of society.
And finally, if parents have points of concern regarding policies or values of specific Armenian camps, it is important for them to get in touch with camps and get clarity regarding their mission & goals. This will not only help parents clarify what to expect and how to prepare their children, but offer peace of mind in knowing the topics that will be introduced and reinforced to their children. Encouraging children to understand their Armenian heritage and culture while developing long lasting relationships with other Armenian kids through an experience such as Armenian summer camp will help them on their path to becoming well rounded Armenian-Americans who will develop not only the confidence to succeed in life, but also the self-awareness to be happy in life.
Sheyda Mia Melkonian Licensed Clinical Psychologist