When I was eight years old, I got onto a big white bus with my best friends, a couple duffels, and a bunch of teenagers who would be my parents for the next eight weeks.
Until I became a parent, I never thought for one second about how weird it might have been for my parents not to have a glimpse of us for all that time. My parents never let on how much they’d miss us (or— equally probable— how happy they’d be to have the summer to themselves), but now that my kids are both heading to sleepaway camp for the first time, I am thinking about it. For two whole months, I won’t know if they bruised their knee, or got stung by a bee, if they were the lead in the camp play, or finally got up on waterskiis.
In the age of helicopter parenting, this kind of distance doesn’t fly. Camps are feeling the pressure to give parents more access to their kids while they’re away, and thanks to technology, they now have a virtual window into what their campers are doing all day long. Dedicated photographers follow kids to activities and snap pictures to be showcased on password-protected sites. Some even post videos. The camp’s own website may host the media, or it may employ a dedicated site such as Bunk1, which posts campers’ photos and allows parents to message their kids. In other words, when the bus pulls away, it’s only “Goodbye” for a matter of hours.
I’m sure there are plenty of kids that like getting messages from their parents all summer long. But as it turns out, this service might not be so great for parents. There’s a rash of articles (like this one) revealing that homesick parents can’t break away from the digital window into their kids’ camp lives, leaving them to “stalk” their kids online. One mom admitted to waking up at 3AM to see if new pictures of her camper have been posted. Another compulsively pressed “refresh” on her browser all summer long, searching for more pics of her kid. Parents who don’t regularly spot new pictures of their kids start to panic. (Contrast that with parents of yesteryear who waited weeks for a letter). Even parents who see plenty of pics of their offspring may worry that their camper isn’t surrounded by friends, or doesn’t look happy enough, or is wearing the same shirt for too many days in a row. It’s easy for a well-meaning parent to become obsessive fast. That also means the days of returning to quiet coupledom for a few weeks are pretty much over.
Truth be told, I didn’t know any of this when I chose the camp that kids go to four years ago. I had no idea that the trend was bending toward a child’s camp life becoming so exposed online. I’m thrilled that our camp is one of the few remaining that doesn’t post any pictures of kids during the summer, because I really feel that their time away should be Time Away. This generation, even more than my own, has so few unsupervised moments, that they deserve a summer that doesn’t involve such intense parental scrutiny. They can get lost in their own nonsense, they can grow, and they can wear the same shirt for too many days in a row. The updates I get will be completely dependent on what they choose to tell me, and while I will miss them terribly, it’s their right to have some moments in life that I am not privy to.
I’m guessing it would be hard to find out whether camps are “unplugged” or not. I think it’s the kind of thing you’d have to ask each camp individually, but it’s a good question to have on your radar while you’re vetting them. While you’re at it, make sure you agree with their technology policy at camp: Many camps have a strict “no devices” policy so kids can truly have a digital detox while they’re in the woods, but other camps are more lax.
We want our kids to eventually be able to fly without us. The question is whether our online lurking is clipping their wings… and our own.
Would you want to cyberstalk your kids at camp, or is it a bad thing? Let me know in the comments!