Whether through social media updates, private online groups, or just texting your little camper, keeping tabs on your kid while they're away at camp is irresistible. How many of us have scoured a camp's website for glimpses of our kid having fun, hints of whether or not they look happy, or clues to how many friends they have? Sure, you can do it – but should you?
Today's camps – both day camps and sleepover camps – are in a bit of a catch-22 when it comes to sharing updates of the kids' days. Many know that parents want to see evidence, whether it's photos, videos, or even counselors' write-ups, of positive experiences. But camps also need to make good on their end of the bargain, which is to foster independence, help your kid mature, boost their self-esteem, and expand their horizons. Not all of that stuff looks pretty. Here are a few ways to balance your need to know with your kid's need to spread their wings.
– Clarify how the camp communicates. Manage your expectations by finding out how you'll get updates, including how often, what method you'll use (email, text, online forum), and how you can respond. Can you post comments? Can you call the office if you're concerned about something you saw in a camp photo? Can you send an email? What's the turnaround time on texts, calls, and emails?
– Respect the camp's rules. Camps spend a lot of time and consideration creating rules around camper-parent communication. If parents are constantly contacting camp staff on social media, cell phones, email, and the like, they can't do their jobs.
– Don't make assumptions. You may be anxious about how your kid is adjusting to camp life and looking for clues in the photos. But you really can't draw conclusions from photos about how your kid feels or how they're doing. If there's a problem, the camp will call you.
– Look for the good. Focus on what looks positive. Is your kid engaged in an activity? Are they doing something fun – maybe something that they've always wanted to do? Don't worry if your son's shirt looks dirty or if your daughter's hair is messy – those could actually be signs that they're having fun.
– Respect other campers' privacy. Don't share group shots of the campers or updates from the staff with family and friends. The other kids have a right to privacy. You can always crop your kid out of a photo and just share that one image.
– Avoid texting your kid. A lot of camps forbid cell phones for a variety of reasons, but if your kid did bring a cell phone to camp, don't message them no matter how much you miss them. It's actually not good for your kid if they hear from you because it can make it difficult for them to adjust to camp life and make them homesick.
– Stop before you become a stalker. Did you check for updates way before the camp said they'd post them? Did you keep hitting refresh over and over to no avail? Did you text, call, or email the camp (or, worse, your kid) over something you saw in a photo? Do you keep the camp page open on your computer just in case they post something? In short, are you spying on your kid? A little anxiety is natural – especially if it's your kid's first time away from home – but take a deep breath and know that you're being an excellent parent by helping them learn independence!
Common Sense Media is an independent nonprofit organization offering unbiased ratings and trusted advice to help families make smart media and technology choices. Check out our ratings and recommendations at www.commonsense.org.