For many young people, going to sleepover camp is the best part of their year – it’s an extended vacation when they’re allowed to get dirty, spend time with friends and experience some independence from their parents.
And most adults have an image of summer camp as a place where kids can rough it, leaving behind modern conveniences to get back to nature. But times have changed.
Take a trip to a typical camp this summer and you’re bound to see kids wearing expensive clothing, yakking on cellphones, and playing handheld video games. And instead of huddling under the covers with a flashlight and an Archie comic, campers today are more likely to be watching X-Men on a portable DVD player. Counsellors and parents have begun to take notice of the problem, and some camps are starting to do something about it.
Mark Diamond, director and owner of Camp Manitou, an arts and sports camp in Muskoka, wants to stop the trend before it becomes part of camp culture. This year, Manitou has sent out a friendly reminder to parents and kids to help them keep in mind what camp is supposed to be about.
It lists what the camp tries to promote – getting away from the city, not worrying about how you look, being social and interacting with others – and what it doesn’t want to promote – putting on makeup, wearing expensive clothing or sunglasses, blow drying or straightening your hair, watching movies or playing video games, and using cellphones.
Diamond acknowledges that adolescence is a hard time, when insecurity may lead many kids to bring these items with them, but he said camp is designed to make kids forget the pressures of city life.
“Camp is a special place where people appreciate you for what really counts,” Diamond says. “When [campers] realize, ‘Wow! They really like me,’ it increases their self-esteem.”
But many campers have a hard time seeing past brand labels and the latest must-have gadgets.
One of the best ways to stop this before it takes root is with parental support, but Diamond says getting it isn’t always easy.
Most parents are completely supportive of Manitou’s efforts, he says, and all parents must sign a contract stating that any contraband items found will be taken away and given to charity.
But some parents let their anxiety get in the way of good judgment.
“Some parents feel insecure when their child leaves and are very concerned,” Diamond says. Many camps have dances where makeup is permitted; there are also nights when an entire camp will watch films as a group, or use computers for a certain activity.
The difference, camp directors and counsellors stress, is that these are communal activities. It’s when electronic gadgets or expensive clothing are used in anti-social rather than inclusive ways that they become a problem.
Diamond agrees wholeheartedly that counsellors must set the tone, but he thinks role-modelling must also begin at home.
“Why teach your child that it’s OK to spend $200 on a pair of sunglasses and have that pressure on them not to lose them?” he asks. Some parents leave it up to their kids to learn from their own mistakes.
Diamond and Boritz agree that parents need to stand firm when it comes to a camp’s and their own rules, as well as make sure that what kids bring to camp accords with its activities.
“At Manitou we start with the staff,” Diamond says. That means he makes sure his counsellors follow all the rules set out for the campers, and he expects parents to do the same. “They are the kids’ role models, and kids always follow their mentors.”
By Maia Filar, Special to The CJN