Parents plug in to kids at camp
Mom and Dad now know what's happening with their kids via e-mail and secured websites.
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While many of today's campers have never known a world without the Web, the ACA's Smith says that it's parents who are spurring camps to adopt e-mail and photo services.Skip to next paragraph
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"Parents are much more anxious today than five years ago," she says. "Since 9/11, parents have wanted to feel more connected with their child and want to know there are ways of getting a note to them immediately."
Camp enrollment had risen nearly every year before the terrorist attack in 2001, Smith says. For several years after that, the numbers were stagnant and parents began sending their kids to camps closer to home.
This is the first summer the ACA has seen another significant climb in enrollment. The rise is not because of these online services, says Blue Star Camps director Rosenberg, but they are helping parents cope.
"It's not only campers who get homesick," he says. "Parents can get camper-sick, too. Often this is probably the longest their child has been away from home."
The photo galleries have created a new problem for counselors, though. They can give a candid look at camp life, but many photos are bound to be out of context. As a result, some parents over-analyze single shots and worry over their camper's every expression.
"There was a lady who called last week worried that her kid looked unhappy in a certain picture," says Chris Lewis, who oversees Internet services for WinShape Camps in Mt. Berry, Ga. "We looked at the picture and he was just tired. It's a hundred degrees, of course the kid was a little worn out. We asked him if everything was all right, and he said he was loving it here."
Camp Echo will continue integrating technology into the camp life, giving parents new features and, in some cases, teaching kids tech-savvy skills they can use during the off-season, says Jordan Coleman, one of the camp's owners.
"We're talking about making podcasts and video podcasts," the camp owner says. "Podcasts could be the new camp radio. But instead of just making something that only the camp can hear, we can send podcasts home."
Along with a climbing wall, theater, and tennis courts, Independent Lake Camp in Orson, Pa., has a separate building for its digital department.
"We are well aware that any camp wanting to keep its doors open during the third millennium had better have a mouse in the house. Lots of them," reads Independent Lake Camp's website.
With 650 kids and only 40 computers, the camp's director, Dan Gould, says Independent Lake campers have scheduled times when they can crawl the Web freely.
"Some campers are all about it and can send out e-mails almost every day if they want," he says. "Others really couldn't care less. There're so many other things to do at camp, they're outside having fun."
Many directors don't want to give campers the option of playing on a computer.
"When you walk around Camp Belknap, you're not going to hear phones or iPods or see any campers on computers," says camp director Gene Clark III. "High technology really goes against the original meaning of camp."
While Mr. Clark insists that his campers unplug, he says the camp itself is not opposed to technology. The main office is equipped with up-to-date machines. Counselors may use cellphones and e-mail after hours. The camp's website features several photo galleries. But kids need to be outside, Clark says.
"Also, high technology increases homesickness," says Clark, who has been at Belknap, on Lake Winnipesaukee, N.H. since his father ran the camp 30 years ago. "E-mail, instant messaging, phone calls, and other kinds of immediate communication, they affect kids."
Nine out of 10 times, if a kid gets on the phone with a parent, the parents will come pick the child up early, he says.
The colloquial writing style of e-mails and instant messages can have the same result on a child. When campers get too close to home emotionally, Clark says, homesickness can rush in.
That is the benefit of one-way e-mail, argues Mr. Ackerman of Bunk1. It's traditional letter-writing, translated for 21st-century kids.
"Make camp about camp," he says. "There's plenty of time to play on a computer when they get home."