We’ve seen them hovering over their children at the school meet-and-greet, have watched them running onto the field during soccer games, and frantically overseeing the neighborhood lemonade stand. Now, it turns out, helicopter parents are allegedly ruining summer camp, according to NPR’s All Things Considered.
We’ve been working in the camp world for over 15 years, but the findings in this article took us by surprise.
Parents, Not Campers, Are The Ones Dependent on Technology
As a former summer camp counselor I have experienced the difficulty of parting with a cell phone during summer in the cabin. We had to keep phones in the counselor lounge which could only be accessed on our free nights, twice a week. Sure, the first week was tough, but then we all became not just accustomed to being disconnected from our phones, but appreciative of it.
“…the first week was tough, but then we all became not just accustomed to being disconnected from our phones, but appreciative of it.”
I was shocked to learn how the NPR article described the sneaky decoys and tactics used by campers to keep a secret phone, and at the bottom of it all… the parents! Parents who mail cell phones in care packages, bury them in luggage, hide them in stuffed animals, or coerce their children into breaking camp rules by turning in a decoy phone. And according to the article, the growing problem of helicopter parents isn’t limited to campers. Now, apparently, counselors’ parents are trying to swoop into camp, too.
According to the Common Sense Census, parents of children ages 8-18 engage in 9.22 hours of screen time per day. That’s parents (not kids) we’re talking about. Armed with that data, it becomes less surprising that parents are busy digitally helicoptering over their kids while they’re away at camp.
Helicopter Parents Are Concerning, But Not Just At Camp
The problem with helicopter parents is more than simply the annoyance and frustration experienced by camp staff. In fact, over-parenting to keep children free from risk can lead to a lack of resilience and in turn more anxiety disorders and increased stress, says Michael Ungar, Ph.D.
This problem is much bigger than what we experience at summer camp. In fact, schools, colleges, and universities all seem to experience similar challenges with managing helicopter parents. The Concordia University Blog for Teachers even published an article title, “Helicopter Parents: How Teachers Can Bring them Back Down to Earth.” All this begs the question, as camp owners and directors how can you combat – or at least manage – helicopter parents?
Talk To Them, But Don’t Always Let Them Talk Back
Some tips used by schools seem feasible to be employed by camps as well. For instance, Concordia suggests using a messaging service, like Remind.com or your camp management platform, that allows you to send messages to parents, but doesn’t allow replies.
This one-way communication makes total sense for camps who feel a need to keep parents informed, but can’t reasonably manage the overwhelming number of responses that often backfires as a result of updating families.
Set Communication Expectations With Campers And Parents
Another option for developing a healthy relationship with your campers’ parents involves setting realistic and clear expectations before summer even starts. That is, when you send that welcome packet with all that exciting info about what their child will be doing over the summer, make sure to include a big, bold page about camper-parent communication.
Some camps ban cell phones; others only allow a phone call home after the first ten days; some restrict communication to letters only. Whatever your policy, make sure the parents see it loud and clear.
Give Your Parents A Cellphone-Free Outlet To Communicate With Their Camper
If parents have been invested enough in their child’s life to seek out a great summer experience for them, they are likely to be the type of parents who want to know how their camper is enjoying that experience. Online parent portals often allow parents to send one-way messages and photos to their children. These notes are then printed and delivered with camp mail to the campers.
Certain platforms take that one step further. For example, CampMinder also allows parents to request a handwritten eLetter reply. That means campers can respond to their parents via a handwritten note, which the camp uploads into the system, and then gets automatically delivered to the parent in their parent portal. We’ve found that this type of communication gives parents peace of mind, while not overburdening the camp staff with parent requests.
Then, Give Them An Incredible Summer
I remember the invisible tug of my phone when I was a counselor, but when I was a camper cellphones just weren’t a thing yet. I have to say I feel a little nostalgic for the days when we would be able to sit for hours making up games, and not worrying about our parents trying to check in on us.
But, at the end of the day, parents will be parents. When we break down the why behind helicopter parents, it’s hard to fault them for loving their child too much, or wanting them to be happy, healthy, and safe.
So regardless of clearly communicated expectations, one-way messaging, and camp notes… beyond all else, the best thing that can give parents peace of mind? Hearing from their kids that they had an amazing summer experience where they were allowed to just be kids.
NPR reported “Understanding the relationship between tech over-dependence and parent-child interdependence may be key to untangling it, so kids can fly free.” But in my opinion, when kids go home after their first summer to tell parents that they played in the sun, got dirt under their nails, and made new friends — that is what parents need to hear in order to lead to a phone-call free summer the following year. And wouldn’t that be lovely?