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We have all become accustomed to instantaneously communication with our friends and loved ones through our phones, computers, and other devices. I recently saw a refrigerator that can receive text messages and display them on a screen on the door. I am not sure how I feel about this, but it is clear that electronic communication is part of our world to stay. So it is very normal for parents and guardians to become a little nervous when they think about sending their child away to sleep away camp without these normal means of communication. In a world where our children are only a text message away, how should we approach this beneficial shift in our summer communication style?
First I think there is value in all of us realizing that if we want our children to become stronger and independent individuals we must allow for space for that to happen. Camp is the perfect place for this independence. Campers are surrounded by caring individuals in a safe environment that encourages exploration. We as parents are able to step back and allow for the growth.
I am, of course, not advocating that we completely stop or cut communication during the summer. Most camps provide multiple ways for families to have positive interactions with their child while at camp. At Circle F Dude Ranch Camp, we use a multi-level approach to communicating. Parents and Guardians always have access to the Camp Director and Assistant Camp Director for questions or camper updates. This is a great way to check in on your child without them realizing it. Circle F Dude Ranch Camp counselors complete camper reports daily about every camper, including information about their activities, how well they are building friendships, and overall well-being at camp. As directors we are always happy to share with parents how their camper is doing.
Our parents and guardians also use our Bunk One email and photo system. This password protected site allows parents to send emails to their campers and receive responses back from campers with in a 48-hour period. The emails are printed and presented to the campers with daily mail. Parents can choose to ask their camper to handwrite a message back, which are scanned at the camp office and emailed back to the parent. It is a modern form of letter writing. Parents are also able to see photos of their camper in the photo galleries.
At Circle F we understand the importance of one on one communication with a camper and this is why a 5 minute phone conversation is set up each week between our campers and parents. This allows the parent to actually speak with their child and hear how camp is going while not interrupting their camp process. Campers love sharing their experience from the week and having that short time to talk to people from home.
Often the best way to communicate is the classic hand written letter or package. Campers love receiving mail from home. A fun package with things to share with their cabin is always appreciated. Before sending packages a parent should check with a camp to find out their rules on things like food and other items in the cabins. Post cards, letters, and notes always make campers smile.
Even with a disconnection form the electronics that drive so much of our communication today, it is still possible for families to have a great dialogue with their camper. You might be surprised at the end of camp that your camper might even be a better communicator overall. Less time on the phone almost always equals more face to face conversations and relationship building with cabin mates and the caring adults of camp.
Ben Moss is the Camp Director at Circle F Dude Ranch Camp. He has over 20 years of youth development experience working in youth programing and summer camps.