presented by T Bar M Camps 

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Imagine a schedule so full of fun, you actually forget about TV and the iPad. Horseback riding and disc golf in the morning, tie-dye at midday, pool time in the afternoon, and that's just for starters.

Add zip-lining, climbing walls, theme nights and water-balloon launches, and it's a summer to remember forever. Archery, mountain biking, paintball, canoeing: This is summer camp. Macaroni art and morning mush it is not.

Camp is one of the most lasting, rewarding experiences parents can give their children. It builds self-esteem, gives kids a sense of independence and allows them to take a breather from the day-to-day. Here are a few of the more unexpected benefits of summer camp.

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REASON #1 - DID WE MENTION FUN?

Outdoor playtime is disappearing for most American children, and quickly. Sociologists at the University of Michigan found that outdoor playtime decreased 25 percent between 1981 and 1997. American kids now spend as little as 5 minutes playing outside on average, even though the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends one hour a day. Amid peer pressure, high academic expectations and excessive screen time, kids have less and less time to be kids. The truth is, children have more stress and less free time than ever, and you might not even be aware of it. A 2010 survey by the American Psychological Association found that children experience more stress than parents realize. About one in five children answered that they worry a great deal, but only 3 percent of parents rated their children's stress as extreme. Stress often causes loss of sleep and overeating, among other immediate consequences. And excessive stress levels while young can set a standard for the rest of a person's life, according to the APA. In other words, a high-stress kid is likely to grow into an overly stressed adult.

Camp gives kids the freedom to shed expectations, play and explore. Kids who play more and worry less are happier. Summer camps pack the day with fun activities, offering an unintimidating environment to try challenging new things as well as allowing for quiet time as needed. Camp provides focus from the chaotic and uncertain, escape from the everyday.

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REASON #2 - TIME TO UNPLUG

Did you know that both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute recommend no more than one or two hours of screen time per day for children? That includes TV and computer time. Data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2012 found that American children spend too much time in the low glow of technology. Interestingly, the consequences of too much screen time are similar to those of high stress. It too can contribute to depression, anxiety and obesity. If that's not enough, recent studies also are linking excessive screen time to near-sightedness. Plus too much media can cause unhealthy self-image and distance from reality. Over indulgence in screen time can set a dangerous standard as kids grow into their teen years.

Our kids are among the first to grow up with social media, which can cause stressors and unhealthy attitudes all on its own. Camp is an opportunity for kids to look up from their gadgets and over-stimulating toys and pay attention to the world around them. At camp, kids unplug for a whole week and learn to be in the moment.

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REASON #3 - OVERCOMING HOMESICKNESS

Homesickness is one of the top things that parents and kids worry about prior to their first experience with summer camp, but overcoming it often proves to be one of the most valuable experiences. Invariably, your child will experience homesickness to some degree. It can be scary, and that's the lesson. Homesickness is more than just longing for home; it is fear of the unknown and uncertainty. While these feelings might be uncomfortable, they are part of life. Learning how to calm one's emotions and find comfort within themselves, other trusting relationships and through their faith is an important life lesson.

During summer camp, children learn to rely on themselves and their faith to adjust to new relationships with other campers and counselors to get through the struggle or homesickness. A child who has learned to cope with homesickness can learn to cope with other difficulties small and large that are unavoidable in anyone's life. Also, there is the added bonus of receiving big smiles and tight hugs at the end of the week.

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REASON #4 - RESILIENCE

Just sleeping away from home and overcoming homesickness is the first step in gaining independence. Even if your child is consoled by a fellow camper or a counselor, a victory over homesickness will be the child's own. With that comes a sense of ownership and pride. And then will come a string of small victories that will make the child feel confident. Being hot and tired at the end of a long hike but sticking with it and finishing, finding compromises with peers, overcoming a fear or learning a new task. All these little blocks of autonomy can help develop your child into a confident, independent person.

We expect our children to be challenged in all aspects of life, but true self-sufficiency and a personal ownership of their faith is the only way for a kid to learn resilience. Even though they may need a little help along the way, they will learn to figure things out for themselves and not to give up. Eventually, they will see that they can do anything.

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REASON #5 - ROLE MODELS

At camp, kids have to make choices. What to have for breakfast? Swim or go canoeing? Brush my teeth? Eat a snack? Take a nap? Camp offers kids the chance to step away from the nest and make choices for themselves within a safe, structured environment.

One of the best things about camp is the camp counselor. Counselors — who we call coaches at T Bar M — are mostly college students in their 20s, who have benefitted from camp themselves. They're not so far removed from childhood that they don't remember how it feels, but they're mature and responsible enough to guide campers' choices. In other words, coaches have 'the cool factor', and they often send your kids the same valuable messages that you would, but in a way that your child receives differently.

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REASON #6 - THE FREEDOM TO BE YOU (ONLY DIFFERENT)

Your child is probably really good at something. Whatever it is — math, writing, flute, basketball — you encourage that thing as much as you can because you are a good parent. But how many times in your life have you tried some awesome new thing and thought, "Gee, I wish I had done this earlier"?

Camp exposes kids to activities and ideas that they might never experience otherwise. Maybe your kid is a great soccer player, but he or she might also be really good at mountain biking, for example. They won't know until they try.

Camp also frees kids from established social expectations. At school, kids find their niche in a peer group which — for better or worse — likely operates under prescribed roles, attitudes and behaviors. At camp they experience a new peer group, freeing them from the social expectations they find themselves in all year. Summer camp is a chance to find new ways of blooming. It's a rare opportunity to set kids out on a safe path that they can choose themselves and explore the world in unexpected ways.

How will your children grow this summer? Overcoming their fear of heights? Or making new lifelong friends? At T Bar M Camps, your kids are invited to play their hearts out in a Christian summer experience. Here, wide eyes encounter Hill Country wonder. Whether it's basketball or cheer, the zip line or the blob, campers play with purpose. All under the care of the very the best role models in the state of Texas.

It's a summer your kids will always remember. To find out more, visit TBarMCamps.org