The days and weeks leading up to camp can be stressful for parents as we worry about how our child will handle being away from home – especially if this is their first experience with sleep away camp.
In our Camp Q & A, Tom Rosenberg, President and CEO of the American Camp Association (ACA), how to best address some common concerns to help ensure that our children have a great time at camp.
My 12-year-old daughter is glued to her phone and the camp she’s going to this summer has a strict no technology policy. I think it might be a recipe for disaster. Do you have any suggestions on how to prepare her?
Rosenberg: It is interesting to note that 90% of ACA accredited camps in our surveys have said they don’t allow cell phones at camp. Why? Because camp is a human powered community, a human powered experience where we work on building those social and emotional learning skills.
Acknowledge the fact that camp is one of the last places in your daughter’s life where she can spend a number of weeks completely untethered from the outside world. She doesn’t have to worry about responding to texts or returning phone calls. She just has to be present and make lots of friends.
Many of our camp directors report, anecdotally, that young teens and pre-teens comment on how they appreciate that it is mandatory [to live without a phone at camp] so there’s no fear of missing out. Having the opportunity to set technology aside and focus on honing their interpersonal skills is really important in terms of their whole education as a young person.
My 8-year-old son was so excited to go off to summer camp for the first time, but now he’s really getting homesick. Camp lasts for 3 more weeks – I don’t want him to be miserable. What should we do?
Rosenberg: Before your son goes off to camp it’s important to acknowledge that most kids feel a little homesick during the beginning of camp. It’s normal to miss your parents. Give your child a heads up that homesickness will likely happen and, if it does, counselors, unit heads and camp directors will be there for him and will work really hard to help him focus on the fun things at camp.
If you as a parent get a letter from your child expressing homesickness, contact camp and let them know. Get their take on how your son is doing and work together on a strategy to get your son on track. It’s important to be strong and encourage your child to stay at camp. You’ll find by the end of the first week the letters will change. It usually takes two or three days for a camper to work through homesickness. Camp is the first step towards being an independent child so not giving them a parachute is important.
My child has special needs and this will be the first time he will be going to sleep away camp. I am beyond nervous. What can I do to keep my fears in check and set him up for a good experience?
Candid communication is really important. Some camps today have not just medical staff but other mental, emotional and social health providers. Camps can be prepared to address the needs of your child; they just need to know those needs in advance so they can plan.
Camp directors and assistant camp directors are looking at how to best train the staff for the individual needs of your child. Reach directly out to camp directors and meet them in person, if possible, ahead of time. Establishing a relationship so you feel comfortable with the people caring for your child – and knowing that you can keep the conversation going while your child is at camp should help your fears.
Remember, camp counselors and directors are there to provide your child support and answer any questions you have. Don’t hesitate to reach out to them with any concerns before or during your child’s camp experience.