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The Dark Side of Looking at Camp Pictures Online

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I'm not talking about cyber safety here, people. I'm talking about parenting. There are three reasons that I genuinely wish there was no such thing as overnight camps posting pictures of kids online during the camp session.

1. They're fine (or not).
Paul Reiser (of Mad About You fame) wrote a great book called Babyhood about becoming a parent. He hates bringing his kid to the doctor for a check-up because any news is bad news. As a family doctor, I can tell you that he's right: In the best-case scenario, you walk out thinking "my child is fine," which is what you thought before you went in the first place.

With my boys away at overnight camp for the first time, I assume they're fine. If they were hurt or sick or lost, I'd get a call from the camp.

So when I look at pictures online, they usually look "fine." Smiling for the camera, maybe grouped together as they've been asked to do before the shutter click. Camps are not dumb, they don't post pictures of the homesick-bedtime, waiting-in-line, activity-cancelled-due-to-rain or extra-clean-up-for-you moments.

Should I analyze the picture for the bad news, as so many parents do? Is he sitting a little off to the side? Does the smile not reach his eyes? Is he wearing yesterday's clothes? Is he not dirty enough? Should I really search for something to worry about?

2. We need practice, too!
Sending kids to camp is hard! Often harder for parents than for kids. But, as the excellent child psychologist Michael Thompson demonstrates in his book, Homesick and Happy, it is good for kids to temporarily leave the nest. They have to practice being on their own so they can learn the skills they'll need in four or six or eight years when they leave for real.

Guess who else needs to learn the skills? Us parents! We need to practice, for very short bursts of time, easing off the micro-management. Proving that we mean it when we say, "I believe in you, you can do it!"

Seeing these pictures every night makes us inclined to call the camp, or at least write to the child with "helpful" advice. Wear more sunscreen! Why don't you participate in the dancing? Pay attention in archery! Why aren't you standing next to your best friend?

This is not giving space, people. This is not what our kids want or need from us during this time of supervised, temporary freedom. And yet it's So. Freaking. Tempting!

3. You can't unring the bell...
Now I sit down to write to our campers. Can I get the pictures I've seen out of my mind? Can I NOT mention the sunscreen, the archery or the best friend?

Do I trust the people that I've entrusted with my children? I do.

Do I trust my children to be the resilient people I know they are? I really do.

When I first learned that you can email your kids once a day each, I was thrilled! Mail every day? I would have loved that as a camper! They can't email back, and that is good. But man, it's hard to find stuff to talk about without mentioning those pictures.

When I lie down at night, I think of my boys. I can't un-see those pictures, and it is too easy to perseverate on the details. To be unconvinced that they are really "fine" when I know that they will be. That each day of camp feels like a week and each week flies by like it was a day, and all the moments add up to teach lessons and make memories.

I've given some serious thought to looking at all the pictures at once, on the last day of camp when they are already on the bus home. How about you? Thumbs up or down on the instant -- but distant -- access?