As cell phone use among kids increases, so does the frequency of parent-child contact. Psychologist Dr. Steven Sussman has even referred to the cell phone as “the world’s longest umbilical cord.”
So what happens when kids go to a sleep-away program that prohibits devices and personal cell phone use? Can parents embrace their child’s hiatus from technology,
even when it means a hiatus from them?
According to Patti Roberts, a.k.a the Camp Lady, “It’s very hard for parents because they’re so plugged in with their children all year long. When these kids go off to camp, [parents are] shell-shocked.”
Camps have turned to companies that help parents peer into their child’s camp experience through photo galleries and e-mail services for parents itching to connect with their kids.
“In the beginning, it was like, Wow, how cool,” says Sam Perlin, director of Camp Solomon Schechter in Olympia, Wash. “Now I spend much of my day answering phone calls from parents who say, ‘I don’t see a picture of my kid,’ or, ‘They’re not smiling — are they having a good time?’”
For better or for worse, parents and kids are ultra-connected in today’s world. Even if parents like the idea of an “unplugged” experience when they sign up early in the year, anxiety will surface for some when drop-off day finally arrives.
4 ideas for dealing with concerned parents compassionately and diplomatically:
1) Listen first.
Sometimes, listening is all it takes to calm parent fears. For example, let’s say a father approaches you at drop-off and starts explaining why his child needs an exception to your cell phone policy. Instead of immediately saying no, validate the father’s concern by restating it: “It sounds like you’re concerned about Johnny getting homesick and not being able to talk to you.”
At that point, the father can clarify if homesickness is, in fact, the concern, or if it’s something else. This approach redirects the conversation to the heart of the parent concern. Whether it’s homesickness, chronic illness, or family dynamics, you can now deal with the issue directly.
2) Restate your policies on technology.
76% of camps prohibit technology, a trend that helps support the goals of childrens’ programs.
Most likely, you promote your policies in camp communication materials, such as your web site and application forms. Gently restating your policy may be the simplest way to respond to a parent concerned about connectivity. But don’t stop there …
3) Reinforce your purpose.
You’re not trying to torture anyone! You have good reasons for limiting technology that support the goals of your organization. “Camp can be a nice antidote to the overparenting phenomenon if camp staff can stand up to over-involved parents,” says Julie Lythcott-Haims, author of How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success.
“Be upfront about your philosophy, policies, and practices,” she says. “Let parents choose your camp because they want that autonomy and independence for their kid, and if a parent starts to cross a line, remind him or her that this is what he or she signed up for.”
4) Encourage parents to embrace the written word.
Writing letters can help parents soothe their anxiety and pain of separation, while allowing kids the space to experience camp and time away from home.
In his book about camp, Homesick and Happy, Dr. Michael Thompson advises parents to take a break from sending e-mails, checking the camp or clinic’s online photos, and mailing multiple care packages.
He says handwritten letters are the best form of communication, freeing kids to spend most of their time thinking about their friends, counselors, and activities—NOT their parents. Plus, letters will make great keepsakes, he adds. 
Summary: Remembering your “why” is the best way to hold to and feel good about your policy!