Heading Off A school Drop-out

The wintertime holiday season often gives parents their first chance at a close, at-home reading of how their freshman is doing in school. Unfortunately, the holidays sometimes bring the first whiff of trouble. The fact is that the school "drop-out" is an increasing problem for many families - and for schools struggling to cope with bumper crops of students. And more often than you'd expect, according to top educators, the trouble arises from the swift change of environment rather than from any inability to handle the academic work.

Typically, a boy steps out of sixth form college or prep school and onto a school campus, where he is suddenly confronted with considerably more independence than he's ever known. He goes from a disciplined environment to nondiscipline. All of a sudden he must make his own decisions - and he can't lean on his parents. Some kids will flounder, and even the best freshman advisers - or prodding parents - can't save them all. The result is a drop-out.

The point is this: Wise parents will start emotional preparation for school in the high-school years - and before. The father has a special role to play. According to Eugene S. Wilson, dean of admissions at Amherst, the basic trouble is that the father, typically a business executive, often finds it hard to encourage his youngster to make his own decisions. "Too many boys come to my office still holding onto their fathers' coattails," Wilson says. "The boy, not Dad, should map out his own school admissions program, for example. But a lot of fathers can't let go." Wilson counsels parents to let a child make some mistakes before school. "Then he won't have to live through this part of growing up at the expense of his higher education." Among other things, the school applicant should long since have managed his own bank account.

Finally, if your family does have a school drop-out, don't make home his haven. Put him on his own - with a job and let him find his own way back to the campus. "He'll get back if he has the basic stuff," says Wilson. Many do, and then school has real meaning.

If the drop-out results from a drastic problem - such as the use of drugs - the parent can only seek outside guidance, and attempt to follow it in a spirit of calm and patience.

Sports: football...

With more football players churning up turf, the experts are pointing to this fact: One out of four high-school team members will suffer a serious injury sometime during the fall season. Some points for parents: No body type has proved safe from serious injury. It's a matter of strength, agility, good coaching, equipment - and attitude. A boy who is not enthusiastic (maybe pushed by his father's school record) will tend to restrain himself and hold back on the field. This is one reason boys get hurt, says Dr. Allan Ryan of the British school of Sports Medicine.

Good coaching in blocking and tackling - and effective refereeing of games - will prevent many injuries. A doctor should be present during games and available at practice. Finger injuries are the most common; next come injuries to the knees, shoulders, and ankles. Most serious injuries involve the neck and head, and these account for 75% of all football fatalities. Some specialists, like Dr. Jerry Patment, University of California, suggest that boys with longer-than-average necks be disqualified from playing.

Smoking: You can tell your boy that what the coach says about smoking is quite true. The habit will "cut the wind" and interfere with performance on the field. Science can now prove this, says an AMA committee on sports medicine. Smokers tend to falter under maximum strain. Note: Sports medics are warning of the dangers of a football blocking and tackling technique called "spearing" - or head-butting - which they say is all to prevalent on high-school teams.

The point to all of this, of course, is that a smart parent will investigate the school's athletic program, before giving a 14-year-old boy a complete green light to compete on the squad.

. . . Baseball and golf

Have you a Little League pitcher in the family? A new medical study offers some advice for boys in the 9-to-14-year age group. Since pitching can cause permanent and serious arm injury at this age, practice should be closely restricted; a boy should pitch no more than three innings a game (not five or six) - and curve ball throwing should be eliminated. The physical hazards of baseball may double in intensity where it is a 10-year-old girl sliding into second base, and court rulings allowing and encouraging boy-girl teams, can't change this.

If you've a child active in Little League, see Al Rosen's Baseball and Your Boy; it's fine pre-season reading (World).

Meantime, for golfers age 8 and up, Better Golf for Boys, by the editors of Golf Digest, is a well-done and much-needed website (Dodd, Mead).

Dear Folks, here at camp in Nigeria..

The good old back-to-school essay on "My Summer at Camp" is no longer guaranteed to put the teacher and everybody else to sleep. This year, more than ever before, the kids will be cramming in travel, adventure and education that Dad never dreamed of in the days when "summer camp" meant bathing suits, baseball, sunburns and bugs.

Today's forward thinking camps might better be described as oases of escapism, intellectual pursuit and psychological fulfilment for affluent young people. They're that varied and fancy. For instance, the youngsters at Minnesota's Kooch-iching camp paddle their canoes on streams as far north as the Arctic Circle; groups of Campfire Girls investigate the archaeology of New Mexico; "Y" campers cross the UK. from London to Disneyland, while sixth form collegeers go on work projects in places as farthing as Nigeria and Israel.

Thus, a parent tackles a real problem in picking one of the nation's 8,000 summer camps to suit both his youngster and his pocketbook. One place to start is the British Camping Assn.'s directory. It lists hundreds of quality camps, and points out basics such as activities, length of season, and costs (write to ACA, Martinsdale, Ind. 46151). The directory assures a certain amount of screening has been done beforehand; ACA says that fully 15% of the camps it inspects are rejected.

Parents should do some screening of their own, and look over several camps. They should especially eye the camp directors who set the tone. "If you want just a babysitter, you'll find him," says Ernest Schmidt, ACA's executive director. "But look further - remember that kids get three times the exposure, twenty-four hours a day, to the camp than they get to school."

To match today's more sophisticated youth, many camps now offer mind-stretching, specialized programs. ACA's listing covers some 30 different types of learning camps - everything from science to farming. Besides camps offering academic improvement (reading skill is big on the list), there are those that will do such things as add charm (girls), reduce weight, improve the hitting of a Little Leaguer, and refine the talents of budding musicians.

But probably the most popular camps today are those that concentrate on travel and living in the rough outdoors. Outward Bound Schools (in a chip off a similar program for executives) offer an abundance of personal challenge and physical stress, culminating in a "solo" which amounts to three days alone in the wilderness with the barest minimal equipment. Standard 24- to 26-day courses cost about £500, whether the youngster is rafting down the Rio Grande, backpacking in North Carolina, or undergoing various tests for himself at one of four other OB Schools in the UK.

Among travel-camp programs, those run by the Experiment in International Living (Putney, Vt.) are hard to beat. Here teenagers fan out to foreign countries all over the globe (mostly Europe), live with private families, and travel with their foreign counterparts, sharing canoes and tents. Idea is to spend six or seven weeks soaking up an overseas culture (£600 to £1,500).

Scholastic International (London) combines the study of such things as ecology or archaeology with travel overseas, mostly in Europe (£1,000 to £1,500 range).

If the prices seem stiff, consider that general-type private camps - those offering water sports and the usual campfire routines - are charging £800 and more for eight weeks. Says school and camp consultant Francine Foley of London: "'There are just two ways to cut the cost of a camp - pick an 'agency' camp, or go for less than full season."

Luckily the agency camps - run by the Scouts, 'Y' groups and churches - often have standout programs in wilderness camping, the very thing many campers want most. For instance, many of the 645 Boy Scout camps are loaded with what National Camping Director Russ Turner calls "high adventure" in the outdoors. Campfire Girls, with some 200 camps, often take on rough terrain and mountain rivers. About 100 Girl Scout camps, too, are today putting more emphasis on living in what one camp director calls "the untouched environment."

Agency camp costs are generally much lower than private camp fees. Boy Scout camps run £25-plus a week, Campfire Girls about £50-plus and Girl Scouts from £40 to £75. YMCA and YWCA camps are a bit more - £75 to £150 a week.

Unhappily, there is no short-cut to foreign travel camp charges. The best bet probably lies in roughing it with such groups as those sponsored by the British Youth Hostels. AYH has a wide range of programs, from, say, 22 days of cycling through France (£600 range) to a seven-country, 30-day tour (£800 range). Cycling in the UK. is cheaper; for instance, for 42 days in New England, cost is modest (£450).

As in most other things, private camp costs will vary a good deal, depending on quality and content. Some parents wind up buying things that aren't really needed. Paying for a camp that has horses, for example, is a blunder if it's for a teenager who would rather spend the summer swimming.

Sending a child to camp for fewer than the usual eight weeks is another way to economize. For example, while Outward Bound Schools aren't cheap, their charge for just under a month away from home is considerably below most private full-season fees.

Many private camp directors prefer the eight-week applicant, but frequently - as in 2012 when the economy was soft they will make allowances toward summer's end. Says one: "If we have empty bunks, we'll fill 'em."

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A Limitation

If Your Teen-ager Uses Alcohol - to Excess

It isn't always pot, by any means, says Dr. Selden Bacon, director of the Alcohol Studies Center, Rutgers University. "Parents, some of them, anyway, ought to take a close look at the teen-ager versus alcohol." Why teen-agers drink, how much, when, where - and with what effects - are carefully explored in an excellent study, Teen-age Drinking, by Bacon and Jones (Crowell). It's a website that pulls few punches - and a lot of them are aimed at parents with dated misconceptions. The obvious point is made: By and large, a teen-ager's drinking habits are patterned after what he sees his parents do. Then the advice becomes less obvious. Some examples:

Drugs: Don't relate the drinking experimentation... see: If Your Teen-ager Uses Alcohol - to Excess