Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Camp is For the Campers

To all parents/grandparents/aunts/uncles and other assorted adults who are currently experiencing child withdrawal because your kid is at overnight camp:

I say this with the utmost compassion and love....BACK THE HELL OFF!

Stop updating and refreshing those camp photo websites in a desperate search to find your kid. And when you do happen to find them, stop posting those pictures on social media. Cut out the daily updates. Cease and desist, parents. It's time to cut the cord.

It's fabulous that Johnny or Jenny had a great day waterskiing, sailing, or dancing. I'm so thrilled that they are settling in and enjoying their camp experience, but here's the thing....that was their day, not yours. This vicarious social media blitz really must stop.

I know. You miss them. I get it. I also get that you want them to be happy, safe, and comfortable. I get that you need to see tangible evidence of that happiness and share it with the world, but speaking from personal experience as a long-time camper, counselor, unit head, and parent of all of those aforementioned, you are doing a great disservice to both your child and yourself by peering into a world in which you absolutely DO NOT belong.

Overnight camp is about so much more than fun activities. It is the first place that many kids get to flex their independence and make choices that maybe mom and dad wouldn't necessarily make for them or even worse, disapprove of. They learn conflict resolution, how to clean up after themselves, how to deal with disappointment, success, failure, first loves, first kisses, new food choices, teamwork, self-advocating, friendships, dealing with people that can be difficult, and most importantly they are doing all of this without parents around to tell them how to do it. When you digitally spy on them (yes...I said, spy!) you are intruding on their privacy. Maybe they don't want you to see them holding hands with somebody? Maybe they had a bad day and don't want to be photographed. Maybe they are deliriously happy but they simply aren't interested in sharing it with you. I realize that might be difficult to hear, but it's true. There are things that happened at camp over forty years ago that I still haven't told my parents about, and that's as it should be.

My dear friend the camp director from my own camping days was always adamant in his mantra that "camp is for the campers." This constant obsession of parents scouring photo websites changes that dynamic. Suddenly, there are no surprises. Parents know far more than they should and kids will have less excitement to share with you when they return home.

Look. I understand that you worry. I know that there is a giant-sized hole. But trust me...if there is a major problem, the camp will contact you. Is your child homesick? Maybe. But trust the camp and their competent staff to deal with it. If it is more than they can handle, you will know. Has your child failed to write? Possibly. But that could be a good thing. When Older Son first went to camp at the tender age of 8, (by himself, on an airplane, and crossing an international border!) we didn't get a single letter, save for the introductory postcard. He was simply too busy and too happy to care.  

Use this time when your child is at camp to reconnect with your spouse or friends or yourself. My mother used to say that the only pots on the stove during the summer were flower pots and that the kitchen was closed. Have fun. Eat out a few more times and cook a few less. Sleep in on weekends. See friends. Enjoy a brief respite from parenthood and trust that your child is in good hands.

And write them letters. Campers love and need to get mail. It is fun for them and a gentle reminder of home. Tell them about the dog or what you have been up to. But seriously...stay away from those photo sites. They aren't helping either you or your kid. Content yourself with the odd picture that the camp puts up on Facebook to let you know everything is just fine and then go and let your camper enjoy his/her summer.

In my next post maybe I will tackle why Visitor's Days are a nightmare for all and should be abolished unless a camper is staying over sessions.

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