Tools like Skype and Facebook have made it easier than ever for kids to keep up with the new friends they made at summer camp. Today’s camps encourage kids to stay connected, but are also savvy about privacy and safety.
by Christina DiMartino
Your children are home from summer camp with memories of newfound friends still fresh in their mind. They may even feel somewhat “camp-sick” because they’re missing the companionship of their camp acquaintances.
Friendships forged at camp help to develop social skills and comradery. When parenting children, you can help them retain their new friendships and reinforce good communication skills by encouraging them to stay in touch.
Importance of friendship
In his article for the American Camp Association, “Camping Alone? Connection, Consistency, and Contribution: How Summer Camps Build Social Capital,” Stephen Wallace, M.S.Ed., says that connectedness at camp is achieved or attained not through some laborious or even time-intensive process, but rather by simply coming together to form a community. This community is inextricably linked through collective play and work, weaving a tapestry of volunteerism, mutual respect, trust and fulfillment along the way.
“It can happen almost in an instant and transcend any particular length of stay: a week, a month, a summer or ten [summers],” says Wallace. “It is the magic of growing up at camp.”
Reflecting on her camp friendships, 16-year-old Kelsey says, “Although camp seems like a place to simply spend your summers, it is truly so much more. Besides the wonderful learning experience, I have forged many friendships that will last a lifetime. Friends you get from camp are not just those you spend the summer with, they are your escape. Not only have I grown up with these kids, I grew with them.”
The world of communication is a lot different now than when today’s parents went to camp. Back then you may have returned home and depended on the postage stamp to keep you connected with fellow campers. Today, kids merely boot up their computers and log on to their email accounts or Skype, or check in on their Facebook, Twitter, or other social networking pages.
This is great in that it makes it easier and faster for kids to stay in touch, and it probably inspires them to do so more often. But, these forms of communication also come with some warnings.
Peter Surgenor is the president of the American Camp Association, and the executive director of Holmes Presbyterian Camp & Conference Center in Holmes, NY. Parent USA City visited with him to ask for his advice to parents on how their kids should stay in touch with camping friends.
“Today, camps are very careful about sharing personal information,” says Surgenor. “Camps build good community, but it’s important to make sure both parents and campers are agreeable to sharing contact information.
“We ask parents to sign permission slips agreeing to allow their kids to give fellow campers email addresses or other contact details. Although it’s extremely rare that parents do not want to share the information, it’s important they be made aware that if they give consent, their child will likely be contacted following the camp session.”
Surgenor points out some sensitive issues, like bullying, that you’ve probably read about in a newspaper or viewed on a television newscast. He says that staffers are trained today to be aware of the possibility of these or other negative situations surfacing during camp sessions, and to know how to handle them if they arise.
“This is more of an issue for schools than for camps today because of camp staffer training,” says Surgenor. “Staffers are taught how to turn potentially bad relationships into positive ones. This is a great contribution that camps make today.”
Many camps now have Facebook or Twitter pages where campers and staffers can post information after sessions, but the camps monitor the sites for good behavior. It also allows the staffers to keep track of what is going on between kids. This helps teach kids to be responsible about the information they share on the internet, as well as proper web etiquette.
“We try to be proactive in helping kids to stay in touch, but we feel it should be done with some sound guidelines,” says Surgenor.
Reunions strengthen friendships
Surgenor adds that some incredible lifetime friendships are forged at camp. Some, years later, even lead to marriages.
“It’s impossible to say what percentage of campers form lifelong relationships at camp, but we know it happens,” he says.
“Camps and groups of people often hold reunions in the years that follow camp, sometimes with staff members. Many camps hold reunions a couple of times a year to bring staffers and campers back together. Attendees share their camp memories, build up anticipation for next summer’s camping session and reinforce friendships. This is a perfect way to stay in touch.”
Christina DiMartino has been a freelance and assignment writer since 1985. She is a researcher, interviewer, writer, editor, and manuscript collaborator with a repertoire of clients from around the world.
Photo courtesy of American Camp Association® (Happy Hollow Children’s Camp, Nashville, Indiana)