Helicopter Parents Are Ruining Camp For Their Kids

by Meredith Bland
Image via Shutterstock

Parents break the rules so their kids can text them from camp

Summer camp is a time for kids to get away from it all — from their parents, their usual day-to-day lives, and these days, from technology. There are a lot of parents out there, however, who are not okay with number one and definitely not on board with number three, which is why some parents have started smuggling banned items like cell phones to their campers.

According to an article from NPR, parents are going to great lengths to stay in contact with their little campers. It’s to be expected that cell phones are banned at most summer camps (around 90% of them, in fact, as Tom Rosenberg, the director of the American Camp Association, tells NPR). After all, you’re sending your kids to these places so that they’ll look up at the world instead of playing Candy Crush — you want them to talk to their friends, not text them.

But parents who are used to being able to reach their child anytime they want or who feel that their child must have a way to reach them are breaking the rules in ways that clearly come from watching too many episodes of Lockup (coming soon: Lockup: Camp Pine Paddle.)

One of the more common methods of smuggling is for parents to give their kids a decoy phone for counselors to “find” and hide another one somewhere else. Those second phones have been found hidden in luggage, mailed in care packages, and — hand to God — sewn into stuffed animals. Counselors have even found contraband items like candy taped into hollowed out Harry Potter books and stuffed into tennis balls. That’s some devious work, people. It’s only a matter of time before kids start trying to keister Playstations into camp. Mark our words.

There are a few things that trouble us about this story: first of all, one of the joys of sending your kid to sleep-away camp is that for a week or a month or whatever, they are not with you. Someone else is responsible for their well-being, and you get to not be. That doesn’t mean, of course, that you’re not going to miss them like crazy and worry about them every day, but we prefer to put our faith in the professionals we have trusted them with. If there’s something serious going on, we’re probably going to get a phone call.

Second, what lessons are parents teaching their kids about following the rules even if they don’t like them? In The Denver Post, co-director of Jewish Community Center’s Ranch Camp Miriam Shwartz said, “They know they’re breaking rules and asking their child to break rules, and they’re OK with that. It’s hard to talk about honesty and why rules are in place and the good of the community when parents are willing to go to those extremes and make campers their accomplices.”

And finally, leaving your kid to fend for his- or herself every once in a while is good for them. Kids need to learn how to solve problems on their own, without going to Mom and Dad for help. They need to feel bad feelings like homesickness, sadness, and embarrassment and figure out how to deal with it themselves. When parents send kids to camp with smuggled-in cell phones, they’re telling their kid that they aren’t capable of doing it on their own and that bad feelings are so awful they shouldn’t have to be tolerated.

Some of us who went to camps like these in the time before cell phones remember having some awful moments when a phone call to Mom would have been wonderful, or text from a parent telling us that they love us would have helped ease the pain. But we didn’t get those, and we still made it. We learned how to survive feeling lonely and sad, which is, by the way, an extremely important life skill for kids to learn.

We can’t protect our kids from bad feelings, nor should we want to. They’ll learn to cope, and they’ll be okay. And so will we.