For generations, summer camp has been a respite from technology, a chance for children to unplug and connect with nature and each other. But camp directors and owners also know that in today’s connected world, it can be difficult for parents to completely disconnect from their children and to not receive immediate feedback about them. “In fact, camps are making it easier for parents to keep in touch with their child and to have a window into their child’s camp experience,” says Renee Flax, Camper Placement Specialist for the American Camp Association, New York and New Jersey. “But it is important for parents to know their child’s camp communication policy before the summer begins and for them to honor it, whatever that policy is. Remember that summer camp is a chance for your child to gain independence and to be able to make decisions and solve problems on their own.”
Besides traditional letter writing, many camps offer families different forms of communication to stay connected to their children.
ONE WAY EMAILS
Today’s parents are busy and camps know that email is an easy and convenient way for them to keep in touch with their children while they are at camp. Many summer camps subscribe to services that allows parents to send one way emails to their campers and the emails are printed out and given to campers with the mail. Most camps don’t allow email correspondence back but campers can write their parents letters in response. One way email is a quick and efficient way for parents to correspond with their children.
The majority of summer camps have a no cell phone policy. Parents and children are asked to honor this policy and leave cell phones at home. Some parents try and hide a cell phone with their children’s clothes but by doing this, parents are going against the camp’s policy and they are teaching their children that it is okay to break rules. Camp is a chance for children to gain independence from their parents and learn to solve problems on their own or with the assistance of camp staff. Even if parents find this policy difficult because they are accustomed to contacting their child whenever they would like, they should remember that camp is a place for campers to unplug from technology, build independence and be a positive, cooperative and rules-respecting member of a community while being apart from their family.
Many camps post daily or weekly pictures of campers enjoying activities on a password controlled website. Through these services, parents are able to email their favorite pictures to friends and family, download pictures and purchase the photos. Camps also post pictures and video on their camp’s Facebook page. The advantage to these pictures and videos being posted is that parents are able to get a glimpse of their child at summer camp doing various activities. The disadvantage is parents can read into an emotion they see on their child’s face. For instance, a look of concentration on a child’s face when focusing on playing a sport can be misconstrued as being unhappy. Or if a photographer doesn’t capture a photo of a child for a few days, parents can think something is wrong and they may wonder where their child is. (Insider Tip: If you feel you’re not seeing enough of your child in the photos, tell them in your next letter to pay more attention when the photographer comes around.)
Each camp has its own phone policy when it comes to camper and parent phone calls. Some camps allow scheduled phone calls once a week, some a few times a session, others once a session and others not at all. If your child has a birthday during the camp session, a phone call is almost always allowed for that special day. Make sure you check with your camp before camp begins to understand their phone call policy. Families should keep in mind that while they may be excited to hear their child’s voice, sometimes hearing a parent’s voice can be difficult even for a well-adjusted camper having a wonderful summer. Frost Valley YMCA, a resident camp in Claryville, NY has a no phone call policy between camper and parents. “Our campers are here for two week sessions. A child that is here can often take 3 or 4 days to get adjusted to camp. If a child hears their parents’ voice, even if the child is well adjusted at camp, he or she could get upset,” says Dan Weir, Director of Frost Valley YMCA. “Parents are welcome to call us for updates on their child. We also post 80 pictures online every other day of each age group, post on our blog throughout the summer, and allow for one way emails from parents to camper. Parents want information about their child and we do our best to provide it while maintaining our camp philosophy.” Campus Kids-Minisink in Port Jervis, NY, a weekday resident camp where children go home on the weekends, allows campers to call home up to two times a week. “We draw many new families that aren’t considering traditional sleepaway camp. These children want to try sleepaway camp but they aren’t interested in long sessions,” says Jani Brokaw, Director of Campus Kids-Minisink. “Just knowing that phone calls are an option eases any concerns our parents and campers have. We have many kids that don’t take advantage of the phone calls but knowing that calling home is an option is comforting to them.”
Letter writing between campers and parents has always been the traditional way to communicate while a child is at resident camp of course. In an age where most children don’t often write letters, camp gives children the chance to maintain the almost lost art of letter correspondence. Many camps have a scheduled number of letters that campers must write their parents during the summer and camps encourage parents to write letters to their campers. “The hand-written letter is important both as a real, personal account of events, thoughts and feelings between parents and children, but also as an important step in the child’s in-camp development of life skills including self expression and communication,” says Andrew Keener, Director of Camp Sloane YMCA, a resident camp in Lakeville, CT. Camp Sloane has a no phone call policy but posts pictures online and allows parents to send one way emails.