5 Things Parents Do To Ruin Camp For Kids (From A Counselor)
Having served as a camp counselor for three years in high school, I feel like I can say that the worst thing that can happen to a child at camp is their parents. Don't get me wrong -- if the pamphlet assures you that your child will not be treated to a shower of bees whenever they open any old door, it's totally on us if they find themselves constantly drenched in bees. However, we sometimes misremember the reasons we had an awful time at camp. It wasn't the camp's fault. It was the fault of the person who signed us up for it.
So when you're registering your kid for summer camp next year, please keep these five things in mind ...
If It's Not On The List, Please Don't Bring It
The camp will likely give parents a list of things that the kid needs to bring so that they don't end up looking like they chose "Dancing Around A Dead Pig's Head" and "Crushing Portly British Children With Rocks" as their activities. It's all hygiene, clothing, and bedding stuff, and the camp usually says that if the kid wants to bring a stuffed animal or a book to enjoy in their downtime, they can, because they're not utter monsters. And that's it. That's all they need. So if a parent tries to tell the counselor "I brought my son's Nintendo 3DS. I thought maybe he could keep it, because he really likes it," don't act like they're murdering your kid's sense of childhood joy and whimsy when they tell you, "Never. Get that thing out of my universe."
"Drive away with it. Bury it in a ditch. Speak the curse so that it may not be revived. Pray."
I'm not the kind of person who thinks nature stuff is inherently superior to electronic stuff. I love trees and hikes, but I can't play Monster Hunter: Generations on a goddamn pine cone. Sadly, as much as I appreciate your child's attempt to catch 'em all or beat up Bowser, anything that beep-boops is better left at home and nowhere near the cabin that they're going to share with 11 other kids. You know what's not the best way to make a first impression on 11 other kids? Being told that you'll probably be allowed to keep your electronic device, and then having it ripped away from you by your parents in front of all of your potential friends.
Forcing a kid to argue with you in public is the worst socializing technique since the invention of the missed high five. There's a time and a place for everything, and Surrounded By A Bunch Of Children Who Will See A Boy Throwing A Tantrum And Stay The Hell Away From Him is not the best place for "Give me that game right ... NOW." Also, on a more practical note, they're staying in cabins and tents -- two places that aren't known for their generous supply of wall sockets. As soon as the battery runs out, that game system becomes an expensive brick that they're trying to save from getting broken.
"You and I are destined to do this forever." -- Nature
And it will get broken. A mix of bunk beds, other kids trying to grab it, and the efforts of the great outdoors will do that. I can't explain it, but the world will mystically conspire to destroy the invading technology. At the end of the week, the kid will have to explain that his $250 birthday present lost its duels with both the top bunk and the lake. So just leave it at home. Two weeks before the trip, tell the kid that a cat ate it. And then, when camp is over, tell them that the surgery was a success and give it back to them. I think that should work. Or at least make them really interested in biology.
Tell Your Kids About The Pills They'll Be Taking
At the beginning of each camp week, counselors get a list of the kids who need medicine and when they need to take it. That list is sacred, because it's what separates "summer camp" from "mass grave." Alongside that list, counselors can also see what kids are allergic to, and they do their best to make sure that the children don't slather themselves in peanut butter and convulse for five days straight. We worshiped that list, bought drinks for that list, and let that list cry on our shoulder when times got tough. It's the parent's job to make sure that their kid knows what's on that list, too.
Some kids who I had didn't know that they needed to take something for their outdoor allergies until the moment before they had to take it. I don't know if you've ever been six before, but a giant collection of pills that you need to take because a person you met yesterday says that they'll keep you from going unconscious is, like, the worst surprise that you can get when you're that age. It's like being told that today is Christmas, but all you get is the gift of a continued life, and it tastes disgusting.
The same goes for suddenly finding out that the food that the other kids are enjoying is banned from you. The kids can't rationalize it, so the counselor becomes some inexplicable, glee-killing specter who wants to rip flavor from the kid's meals and replace it with nothing but jelly sandwiches.
"Your mom says that all you can consume is jelly until you leave here. You have our sympathies."
I'll give kids credit, a lot of them were good as shit at remembering the names and amount of medicine that they needed to take at the infirmary. At their age, I was eating leaves because I saw a horse do it. But parents need to remind them so that their week isn't a Whack-A-Mole game which replaces the moles with ailments that need to be immediately taken care of. Counselors also ask that no one packs their kid Ibuprofen. I'm aware that you'd probably have to swallow the whole bottle like a snake in order to feel anything from it, but kids self-medicating themselves is a good thing to stay away from -- you know, out of principle.
Make Sure They Know Where Everything Is
Yay! You made it! The counselor talked to you, they've awkwardly flirted with your older daughter, who did not want to be taken two hours from home just to stand around in a cabin and say goodbye, and they've introduced themselves to your son, who seems like a nice kid. The first thing you're probably going to want to do is unpack all of his stuff into one of the small closets along the back wall. After that, take two minutes and point out where everything in the closet is. Thank you for doing that. You've just saved the cabin an hour of time.
Most camp time isn't wasted waiting for someone to build the courage to go down a zip line or waiting for someone to catch up with the group on a hike. It's wasted waiting for a kid to find their shit. On average, a child loses their sandals eight times a day. That is unavoidable. Sandals aren't tied to your feet, so it's only natural that they're going to spend most of their existence far away from wherever you need them to be. That said, if the kid knows where they might be, along with possible locations for the rest of their stuff, it can really cut down on the time you spend ordering kids to scour the cabin for any hints that could help to find Tyler's kidnapped sunscreen.
"Oh look. They were on his feet the whole time! Haha! Misery will accompany you forever, children."
When you tell a kid that we have to be somewhere in 15 minutes and they need to have a certain lost item, they will tear the earth apart trying to find it. And when they do, they'll hastily and clumsily shove everything back in that closet, setting up the next thrilling round of "Where Is Josh's Fucking Hat?" Like sandals going missing, the fact that at the end of the week, the closet's interior will look like helicopter footage of hurricane aftermath is unavoidable. But if a parent can say "Toothbrush is here, shirts are here, sunglasses are here, and everything else is here," camp counselors won't have to organize a Water Bottle Search & Rescue team every time they're scheduled to go outside.
Leave At The Appropriate Time
Parents staying past the appropriate time isn't a common problem. But there are a few who linger for a while, like those people who are so used to post-credits scenes in movies that they sit through the credits of shit like Sully, expectantly waiting for Tom Hanks to show up and tease Sully 2: Turbulence. They linger through the opening activities, the first meal, and the opening campfire, standing around and behind everyone like a Jason Vorhees who sometimes asks you if it's not too late to sign their kid up for the horseback riding class.
"Not to be a bother, but does he need to bring his own life jacket? Just trying to be safe."
I get it. Camp is fun, and your kid might have trouble being away from his parents for the first time. But it's so much harder on the kid when you decide to go with Option B: Sleep Tight In This Unfamiliar Place With These Unfamiliar People, Totally Alone With Your Thoughts And Your Tears At Night, than Option A: It's The Afternoon And The Counselor Seems To Be Starting Some Sort Of Icebreaker Game, So I Should Leave.
And don't say "You won't even notice that I'm here," because we will. You can't fool us, because we've been people before. If my mom showed up to something that I was doing with my friends, and she was the only parent there, any hope of a fun afternoon of Super Smash Bros.-ing was dashed, replaced by the overwhelming knowledge of "Oh god, my mom's here. Oh god, my mom's here."
Counselors don't immediately launch into group games because they're the greatest things ever. If I just met a group of people and an older man came up to us and said "NOW EVERYONE LOCK HANDS AND TRY TO UNTANGLE YOURSELVES WITHOUT LETTING GO! THIS IS THE LAW!" I would run, because I don't do well with cults and/or murder. But they do help those kids who might have some trouble adjusting to get involved with the rest of the cabin. It takes their mind off the fact that, yes, the person they trusted the most has agreed to have them abandoned in the woods with no one whom they know.
"Don't worry. The wolf howls will eventually lull you to sleep."
Counselors really want your kids to have a fun experience. And that's tough sometimes, because about 30 minutes into the week-long arts and crafts class that they signed up for, a few kids realize that they really should've picked archery. Also, it's hot, walking a lot is tiring, etc. But the camp staff needs them to get excited about the general prospect of camp. And when parents are diverting their attention to hold their hand and whisper, "You're getting chicken nuggets for dinner and you're near a climbing wall. Isn't that NEAT?" all they'll be able to focus on until they're picked up on Friday is "Well, Mom left. Happiness was great while it lasted."
They're Going To Hear Some Things That You Won't Like
At the beginning of the week at the camp I worked at, we'd have kids choose three activities that they'd go to each day. These ranged from climbing to canoeing to riflery, and after we presented the activities to them, we'd give them the chance to ask any questions. Usually, these ranged from "Are we canoeing in the water?" to "What if we don't want to do anything?" But in one case, a 10-year-old kid stood up and asked "Are there any classes for atheists? I'm an atheist. Are there any classes for atheists?" Later that night, one of the eight-year-olds in my cabin asked me what an atheist was, and I told him, "It's someone who doesn't believe in God." And I left it at that.
That was a mistake.
Watching a dozen eight-year-olds from various spots in suburban North Carolina try to suddenly grapple with the idea that there might not be a Heaven, and that death is just IT for them, is fascinating. Some immediately deny it, and some are very, very intrigued by it, only to forget about it when they learn that a pool is nearby. And some tell their parents at the end of the week that they now know that Jesus isn't real. And who gave them their lessons in the futility of theism? By that point, they'd completely forgotten that a kid had stood up and asked about the possibility of an Atheism Hour at a summer camp, but they definitely remembered the time their counselor passionately condemned their eternal souls.
"The cabin had a great time swimming in the lake yesterday! Also, they might be damned."
Kids are going to spend the week with other kids their age who weren't raised the same way. And with that comes the possibility that they're going to be exposed to, for lack of a better term, certain viewpoints. And these viewpoints will drastically alter the course of the camp, whether they be the viewpoint that fart noises are best delivered en masse or the viewpoint of a 12-year-old who has "seen a video where people do it in the butt." There is nothing that shatters a small-town fifth-grader's reality faster than learning that the butt is not just an export station.
Camp counselors do their best to make sure that kids have, at the very least, a mediocre time at camp. They fail sometimes, but unless they're bags of sentient turd, they keep good intentions in mind. So if you look back and wonder why you had a miserable time at camp, consider that maybe it wasn't the counselors who caused it. Maybe it was the person that paid for your trip.
And that's why whiskey was invented.
Discover more ways parents bungle their way through parenting in 4 Things Kids Never Learn (Because Parents Teach Them Badly) and find out why some camps are truly terrifying in 5 Realities Of The Rehab Camp My Parents Paid To Kidnap Me.
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