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Should Cell Phones Go to Camp?

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By Regan McMahon, Common Sense Media Editor

When your kid's summer camp tells you to just pack the essentials -- swim suit, sunscreen, sleeping bag -- a cell phone is usually not on the list. In fact, it's generally on the "What Not to Bring" list. But for parents, staying in touch with our kids feels essential, and some find it's not so easy to break the habit.

A couple of summers ago, we sent our daughter to a two-week sleep-away surf camp in San Diego with a group of girls from her school. A few weeks before departure, the girls' parents got together and someone brought up the camp's no-cell-phone policy. One mom told how the previous year she snuck one into her daughter's duffel bag anyway and the girl got busted and had her phone confiscated. But the woman bragged that she was going to do it again this year.

Apart from sending a dubious message that it's OK to break the rules, the mom didn't seem to understand the reasoning behind the rule.

As explained on the camp website, experience has shown that phone calls from home intensify homesickness: "One of the valued outcomes of camp is learning independence. Calls home would detract from that important goal. In rare circumstances, due to behavior or severe homesickness, our staff will contact you." The statement adds that "cell phones cannot be with campers for security and privacy reasons."

The camp also forbids bringing other electronics, such as MP3 players and electronic games, explaining, "Camp provides children a chance to live without electronic devices."

But if the kids can unplug, why can't we? Since we can all admit the cell phone is more for us than for them (kids aren't the only ones with camp jitters), here are some tried and tested tips from recovering camp moms. You will get through it.

  • Remind yourself why your kid is going to camp. You've sent your son or daughter off for a new experience, and for a reason. Having your kids spend time with their fellow campers rather than texting friends back home will ensure a more valuable camp experience.
  • Dear Mom, connect the old fashioned way. You may miss hearing your kid's voice, but nothing beats a letter from your sleep-away camper telling you about new friends and new experiences at camp. And for your kid, nothing beats a letter from home with news of familiar places and people, filled with expressions of love and "We miss you." For parents of day campers, you can hear all about your kid's exciting day when you're together again -- on the ride home or at the family dinner.
  • Seeing is believing. If you mainly want assurance that your kid's having a good time, you may be able to see for yourself if your camp posts camper photos daily online. Our camp did, through a service called Ask if your camp offers a similar service, or suggest that they do.
  • If you're on the fence, check the rule book. You'll usually find cell phones on the "What Not to Bring" list. Abide by the rules, and if your kid has a problem and needs to get in touch, the camp will facilitate a phone call. You can always call the camp office or ask to speak to your kid's counselor to ease your mind.

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