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Dear Parents - NY Times Article

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July 26, 2008

Dear Parents: Please Relax, Its Just Camp

By TINA KELLEY

HONESDALE, Pa. A dozen 9-year-old girls in jelly-bean-colored bathing suits were learning the crawl at Lake Bryn Mawr Camp one recent morning as older girls in yellow and green camp uniforms practiced soccer, fused glass in the art studio or tried out the climbing wall.

 

Their parents, meanwhile, were bombarding the camp with calls: one wanted help arranging private guitar lessons for her daughter, another did not like the sound of her childs voice during a recent conversation, and a third needed to know preferably today which of her daughters four varieties of vitamins had run out. All before lunch.

 

Answering these and other urgent queries was Karin Miller, 43, a stay-at-home mother during the school year with a doctorate in psychology, who is redefining the role of camp counselor. She counsels parents, spending her days from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. printing out reams of e-mail messages to deliver to Bryn Mawrs 372 female campers and leaving voice mail messages for their parents that always begin, Nothings wrong, Im just returning your call.

 

Jill Tipograph, a camp consultant, said most high-end sleep-away camps in the Northeast now employ full-time parent liaisons like Ms. Miller, who earns $6,000 plus a waiver of the camps $10,000 tuition for each of her two daughters. Ms. Tipograph describes the job as almost like a hotel concierge listening to a clients needs.

 

The liaisons are emblematic of what sleep-away camp experts say is an increasing emphasis on catering to increasingly high-maintenance parents, including those who make unsolicited bunk placement requests, flagrantly flout a camps ban on cellphones and junk food, and consider summer an ideal time to give their offspring a secret vacation from Ritalin.

 

One camp psychologist said she used to spend half her time on parental issues; now its 80 percent. Dan Kagan, co-director of Bryn Mawr, has started visiting every new familys home in the spring and calling those parents on the first or second day of camp to reassure them.

 

And while the camp schedule once was sacrosanct, parents are now pulling kids out to act in commercials, compete in gymnastics meets or fill choice seats at baseballs All-Star Game.

 

Accommodating parents makes sense, since without happy parents, there would be no campers at all, happy or otherwise. But, treading carefully, some in the camping industry privately worry that meddlesome mothers and fathers seem to have forgotten that one main point of overnight camp is to give children a chance to solve problems without parental assistance.

 

Starting about seven years ago, camps tried to satiate parents need to know by uploading pictures of kids at play daily to password-protected Web sites, a one-way communication tool that seemed to respect the sleep-away tradition of maintaining distance. But such real-time glimpses often aggravate the problem, as the obsessed become obsessed with what they are seeing or not seeing.

 

I have parents calling and saying they saw their child in the background of a picture of other children and he didnt look happy, or his face looked red, has he been putting on enough suntan lotion, or I havent seen my child and I have seen a lot of other children, is my child so depressed he doesnt want to be in a picture, said Jay Jacobs, who has run Timber Lake Camp in Shandaken, N.Y., since 1980.

 

In previous years, parents would understand that we were out in the field with children, and wed get back to you after dinner when we had freer time, said Mr. Jacobs, who has fielded inquiries from parents about what day the water trampoline would be fixed and whether a particular child still loved his mother after a promised package failed to arrive. Now a parent calling at 11 will be off the charts if they dont have a response by 1 or 1:30.

 

Norman E. Friedman, a consultant who conducts training at 44 camps, said parents also take up valuable camp resources by breaking the rules they have tacitly agreed to.

 

Theyll give their child two cellphones, so if they get caught with the first one, Just give it up and youll have the second one to talk to me, he said. Thats widespread, not isolated. I call it fading parental morality. What theyre doing is entering into delinquent behaviors with their children. And what kind of statement is that to a child?

 

He and others said parents also frequently send children away without packing their prescribed medication for attention deficits or psychological problems and without letting camp staff know.

 

They keep it as a secret, that the kid was on those medications, so the kid comes to camp and starts acting out in ways directors dont understand, Mr. Friedman explained. Oftentimes they get very aberrant behaviors, and have to hospitalize children. Only then does the parent mention the underlying issues and unused medication, he said.

 

Catherine Steiner-Adair, a clinical psychologist in Massachusetts who consults with residential camps, said they can be among the best places for children to develop social skills and resilience if only parents allow it.

 

If your child doesnt get the bunk they want or youre worried that he didnt get the right camp counselor, if you convey that kind of response Oh my God, thats awful, let me call them, its so unfair thats the worst possible response a parent could have, she said. But more of that is happening.

 

Marla Coleman, a past president of the American Camp Association who has served as a parent liaison at Camp Echo, a sleep-away camp in the Catskills, pointed out that with the proper amount of hand-holding, camp can be as much a declaration of independence for parents as it is for children. Nobody goes to school for how to send your child away from you, she said. We help the parents become independent. And especially post-9/11 in todays society, thats definitely a heightened need.

 

In explaining parental yearning for frequent contact with their children and reassurances about their safety, Ms. Coleman, whose family owns a day camp where she now works as a parent liaison, quotes Mary Pipher, an anthropologist and the author of Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls (1994). Ms. Pipher once told her, It used to be the job of parents to expose their children to the outside world; today, it is their job to protect their children from the outside world.

 

Ms. Coleman describes the role of parent liaison as part coach, part advocate, part partner and part medium, channeling a childs sometimes shaky emotional state to parents.

 

When a parent knows theres a responsible adult who represents all the other adults there, they can relax more and help us do our job more, she said. Almost always theres a huge thank you and learning experience from the parent. Theyve experienced this along with the child, and theyve grown too. Theyve learned how to separate a little bit better.

 

Lake Bryn Mawr Camp has added a second visiting day, designed for children with divorced or divorcing parents, or families with children in more than one camp. To prepare, Ms. Miller sent parents combinations of different letters: one for girls with a bunkmate who has a peanut allergy, one for first-time campers and some that included permission slips for those who wanted to take their daughters off campus.

 

Stationed at the gate, she would greet each family, have campers paged over the public-address system, then preside over the often-tearful reunions. Sometimes the kids dont know which parents are coming, Ms. Miller said of the second visiting day.

 

Becky and Drew Picon, who live in Livingston, N.J., spent the day playing basketball and visiting the stables with their 15-year-old daughter, Jaime, who is in her seventh summer at Bryn Mawr.

 

The Picons acknowledged that they are demanding parents, having called camp staff over the years to request a special cereal for Jaime, who rarely ate breakfast before this year; to ask for extra phone calls when she was in the infirmary; to take her off campus one visiting day when they had a scheduling conflict; and to seek advice about problems their son was having at another camp.

 

And there they were on the phone last week with an 11th-hour plea to come on Sunday, instead of Saturday, when they would be visiting the aforementioned son (they each thought the other had already called).

 

Mr. Picon, who owns several auto dealerships, remembered calling Mr. Kagan, the Bryn Mawr director, on Jaimes very first day of camp back in 2001.

 

I called the camp at 7 a.m. and Dan answered the phone, Mr. Picon said. He said, Jaimes fine. And are you going to call me every morning?

 

Anticipating a lecture, Mr. Picon said, I think I am.

 

To which Mr. Kagan, himself the father of three daughters, warmly replied: Well, do it at this time of day, its when I have some free time.

 

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/26/nyregion/26camp.html?pagewanted=2&_r=1&sq=summer%20camp&st=cse&scp=5

 

 

 

$10,000 for camp? HOLY BUNK BEDS Batman!

 

 

 

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If there wasn't the infusion of commentary in that article, it would make great stand-up material!

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Good thing our council camp is so far up in the woods, there is no cell phone reception for anyone and there is only one landline, with no answering machine.

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That article has to be one of the most unbelieveable things I have ever read.

evmori is correct. There is a gold mine of comedy material there.

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Just another example of people with more money than sense. What could scouts do with that type of cash!!

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If you want an overview of this type of sleepaway camp, from the campers perspective (these kids aren't going to camp for one week - they go for a season - usually 8 weeks - these are the kinds of camp featured in movies like Meatballs), go out and get the book Camp Camp (or just go to the blog - campcampbook.blogspot).

 

We should spend less time focusing on the cost of the camp, especially in comparison to Boy Scout camps. Camping on Boy Scout property can be cheaper because most Boy Scout camps aren't paying property taxes, and most councils get an awful lot of donated time and materials for camp buildings and maintenance. These are private, for-profit camps that have to pay for everything, including property taxes. That's why it's much more expensive. If the Boy Scouts had to operate under the same profit/loss structure, a week of camp would be closer to $1,200 or so too.

 

What we should be taking away from this article, in my opinion, is the continuing movement of "helicopter parenting" and try to figure out how we just nip this in the bud. At what point will Boy Scout Summer Camps need to hire a "Parent Liaison"?

 

Calico

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I thought the parent liason angle was already covered, by the adult leaders of the troop. The sleep away camps don't have volunteer leaders for each discreet group either.

 

Speaking of seelaway camps, remember the original "Parent Trap" with Hayley Mills? Now that WAS a camp!!!

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I know of one parent who refused to send their kid to a camp more than 90 minutes away, so they could be there "just in case". I know of another one who not only spent the $500+ to send their kids to a week long resident camp six hours away, but also went so far as to stay in the nearest town for the week, again, just in case.

 

There's a good reason some camps go so far as to invest in the cell phone disrupters they sell to churches and schools.

 

http://www.grandtrades.net/GT2000Q.htm

 

 

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Unfortunately this is yet another argument against in-council summer camp. I had every day of camp interfered with by parents this past summer camp outing. I'm planning on at least 5-6 hours between boy and parent next summer.

 

It is unfortunately I didn't quite catch all the humor associated with the article, I see items in the article in both BSA and my church youth groups I work with. Clingy parents are the rule, not the exception.

 

Stosh

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Amen to that... We had a scoutmasters meeting last night, and decided meetings will go better if we ban adults with the exception of the SM & ASM. Parents and MC's will be in an adjacent room to conduct business and be available for the scouts to visit, but the rest of the meeting will be boy led & ASM supervised. Time will tell if it works...

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Ya really gotta wonder what goes on in helicopter parents heads! Man when I grew up, I was never home in the summer! I'd yell to my mom I was heading to where ever & she'd holler back be home by xxxx & off I went!

 

Ed Mori

1 Peter 4:10

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