July 15, 2008

This Mom Needs A Parent-ectomy STAT!

Kid-sickness strikes camper parents:

CHICAGO, Illinois (AP) -- Eve Pidgeon watched the large group of kids, many of them laughing and chatting excitedly as they boarded a bus for summer sleepaway camp last summer.

"They just couldn't wait," says Pidgeon, whose 8-year-old daughter, Zoe, was among the young campers.

Then Pidgeon looked around and noticed something else: "There were no children crying -- just parents."

These days, camp leaders and family counselors say it's an increasingly common dynamic. It used to be the homesick kid begging to come home from camp. While that still happens, they've noticed that it's often parents who have more trouble letting go.

They call it "kid-sickness," a condition attributed in large part to today's more involved style of parenting. Observers also say it's only being exacerbated by our ability to be in constant contact by cell phone and computer, as well as many parents' perception that the world is a more dangerous place.

For leaders at many camps, it's meant that dealing with parents has become a huge part of their jobs.

"The time and energy camp directors put into preparing parents for camp is now equal to the time they prepare children for camp," says Peg Smith, head of the American Camp Association, which works with about 2,600 camps nationwide.

Refreshingly, the article seems to side with those who believe Mom & Dad ought just to unclench:

Bob Ditter, a therapist who works with children, adolescents and families in Boston, Massachusetts, has acted as a consultant to camps since the early 1980s and says he hears stories like those all the time.

He says there's something to be said for a parent who cares, but not to the point of becoming a "helicopter parent," a term used for parents who constantly hover over their children, stepping in to monitor their choices and solve their problems, even into adult life.

At Camp Arowhan in northern Ontario, Canada, they call it a "parent-ectomy." As is standard policy at many camps, director Joanne Kates doesn't allow her campers to phone, fax or e-mail their parents. They can, however, use a private service that contracts with the camp to exchange handwritten messages, which are scanned and sent throughout the week.

But she's clear with parents that they have to allow the camp staff to deal with most issues, including homesickness and conflicts between campers.

"Sending your child away to summer camp requires a terrifying leap of faith," says Kates, who estimates that she easily deals with "10 times" as many phone calls from worried and sometimes meddling parents as she did a decade ago. She saw a particular shift after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Child psychologist Dan Kindlon has noticed the heightened anxiety when touring the country to speak to parents. He says the large majority raise their hands when asked if they think the world is a more dangerous place than it was 20 years ago.

He questions whether that's really true, and wonders if we are unnecessarily creating a generation of overanxious children.

I tell you truly that with more and more articles like this coming along, I really have hopes that the pendulum is starting to swing back away from the helicopter-parent syndrome.

All I know from our first experience of sleepaway camp this year is a) the counselors were very firm about shooshing parents away as quickly as possible and b) both Llama-ettes are eager to return next summah.

As for the Missus and me, yes, it was a bit of a wrench to drop off the Llama-ettes and yes, we wrote them a fair number of letters - especially given as this was their first time - but I don't think either one of us went overboard fretting about them while they were away. And both the Llama-ettes said they were generally too busy to give much thought to missing us while they were there.

Posted by Robert at July 15, 2008 01:25 PM | TrackBack