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Marketplace
Commentary

Why technology has ruined summer camp

Beth Teitell Aug 7, 2013
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Remember the old days? When the whole point of sleepaway camp was to escape your parents’ prying eyes? A kid could spend an entire summer wearing the same dirty clothes and no one noticed.

But these days — as many a camper is learning — Big Mother is never far away.

Let’s pity, if just for a moment, helicopter parents with kids at sleepaway camp. They should be enjoying a break from their self-imposed duties. But letting go is hard, particularly since most camps enforce strict ‘No cell phone’ rules. That reduces mom and dad to scouring the camp’s website for newly uploaded photos in hopes of catching a glimpse of their offspring.

Oh, you didn’t know? With competition for campers intense, most camps now dispatch a photographer to stroll the campus and capture the simple, old-fashioned joy that $13,000 for a seven-week session — at the high end — can bring.It’s an attempt to please the people paying for the bug juice. But as camp directors know, photos don’t necessarily calm worries. No sooner do the shots go online, than the calls start:

“He looks plump. What are you feeding him?”

“Why is she standing alone?”

“It’s raining — why isn’t he wearing the coat I sent?”

“How come he’s not smiling?”

And, even more painful: “Why aren’t there any pictures of my child?”

When camps get that last call, they send out the photographer, but some children don’t want to be captured. As one camp consultant told me — yes, that’s a real position — the kid will say “Why are you taking my picture? I’m fine.”

With the camp season heading into the home stretch, some parents admit to checking for uploaded photos hourly, and a YouTube video mocking the behavior has gotten more than 160,000 hits. In it, a sleepaway camp mom repeatedly blurts out the word “refresh” while talking to a confused non-camp mom.

Online camp photos have become such big business — some sites let parents buy prints — that even day camps are doing it.

That puts day camp moms like me in a funny position: we can go straight from nagging our children about screen time to ‘oohing’ over photos of them taken mere hours earlier.

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