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Camp to Home Communication

Camp rules dictate how you stay in touch with your camper over the summer

Parents today are accustomed to the instant access cell phones, texting and email gives them to their kids. But camp communication policies that disallow or restrict camper phone and/or email access can cut that immediate connection — potentially raising anxiety levels in parents used to reaching their kids 24/7.

Camps aren’t snipping the proverbial phone cord to be cruel. On the contrary, stringent communication guidelines, say camp experts, are set because constant parental monitoring of whereabouts and well being has been known to work against a child’s successful summer camp experience.

Camp phone and email rules

Over the past decade, day and overnight camps have considered how to balance the ease of new technology within traditional camp parameters — one in which letters home remains the preferred camper/parent communication route.

Although camp directors generally welcome parent inquiries, they know that campers who are able to text mom whenever they have a problem will not build the life skills — independence and conflict-resolution among them — camp helps to develop. “When a parent says, ‘Call me if you need anything’ or ‘I’ll come get you if you don’t like camp,’ it signals that the child isn’t capable of working things out on his own,” says Michael Chauveau, executive director of the American Camp Association (ACA) Keystone Field Office.“Learning to be self-reliant in a safe camp environment prepares children to cope when they eventually leave home.”

Lines of communication

Some camps have “no electronics” policies; others allow two-way, parent-camper email. Some camps funnel all parent communications through the director; others instruct parents to contact counselors or group leaders. Knowing, understanding and abiding by your camp’s policies ensures a better experience for everyone.

“We know that if kids have phones and text home about a problem, parents may get worried about something” camp staff can resolve, says Tom O’Neill, director of Golden Slipper Camp, a 60-plus-year-old overnight camp in Stroudsburg, PA. “That’s why we tell parents to call us first.”

 

Who should you call?

Before the summer even starts, familiarize yourself with your camp’s communication policy so you know the correct channels to go through should you need to get in touch (and, frankly, to be assured that you feel comfortable enough with the rules to choose that camp in the first place). Camps typically have parents go one of two routes.

Camp owner/director route: “The best thing parents can do if they have a concern is talk with a director as soon as possible, so the concern can be addressed and resolved for the most effective outcome,” says Angie Crescenzo, camp coordinator for Western Family YMCA Camp Wassaqui day camp in Newark, DE. “The worst thing parents can do when they have a concern is to let it go unnoticed or feel that they cannot talk with someone.”

Counselor route: At Elbow Lane Day Camp in Warrington, PA, director Bob Lester shuttles parents’ informational calls to a child’s head counselor, a trusted staffer who has typically been working at the camp for a minimum of 20 years. The head counselor will then return the call alongside the child’s bunk counselor. Conversely, if a child is having a specific issue, the head counselor and counselor will do the reaching out together. “Then, if it’s a difficult issue, we will all sit down together to resolve it,” he says.

Alternate avenues

One way camps have adopted digital media is to keep families in the general know. Camp websites post activity photos in real time. Elbow Lane counselors send parents a bunk newsletter about weekly camp events and camper accomplishments. YMCA Camp Wassaqui communicates with parents year-round via open houses, newsletters, email and social media.

“We feel that it is important to keep open communication with our families,” says Crescenzo. “We encourage parents to ask questions about our camp, our staff training requirements, and our policies and procedures. We also encourage parents to stop in at different times to see our camp, which in turn, opens the lines of communication even further.”

Respect the rules

Experienced camp directors know — and child psychologists agree — that for children learning to solve their own problems or overcome homesickness, a call from home can actually do more harm than good. Therefore, says ACA consultant Christopher Thurber, PhD,

“If your child's camp has a no-phone-calls policy, honor it. Don't feel guilty about encouraging your child to stay at camp. For many, camp is a first step toward independence and plays an important role in growth and development.”

Camp communication policies are generally built around the concept of ensuring camper success. “Parents who encourage children to sneak a cell phone into camp, or storm into camp unannounced, or demand to speak with someone immediately can undermine their child, disrupt the camp day or even embarrass their children,” says Chauveau. “When parents understand that the camp has your child’s best interest at heart and respect the reasons for these rules, they can build a successful partnership with camp staff.”

Ellen Warren writes for the American Camp Association Keystone Field Office serving PA and DE. Learn more at Campparents.org.

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