Dear Mom, Don't Pack My Phone for Camp

Let's be honest: sending kids to camp with a cell phone is probably more for you than them. Here's how to cut your cord. By Regan McMahon
Dear Mom, Don't Pack My Phone for Camp

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. 

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.
  • 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.

About Regan McMahon

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Regan has been reviewing children's books for more than a decade. A journalist and former book editor for the San Francisco Chronicle, she cites as one of her toughest assignments having to read and review the 784-page... Read more

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Comments (20)

Teen, 15 years old written by Maddiecat

I seriously do not understand why parents think teen's lives revolve around their cell phones and devices. I am a teen myself and I know my friends and I, even my peers have control of their cell phones usage. I've never brought my phone to the dinner table because I don't need it there. Basically I'm trying to point out that most teens don't see their cell phone as the most important item they own. But we do see them as a valuable and useful tool. I don't use it all the time but I love posting pictures of places I've visited, a cool drink I've gotten from a coffee shop, or even pictures of my friends and I on my social media accounts. Being at a camp without my phone I would go absolutely hysterical not being able to take pictures and post them! After all I want to remember the experience. You may think that I could just take a regular camera, but having pictures on a cell phone is so much easier to view. Plus, any friends you make at camp can add your social media handles so even after camp you can keep in touch! Besides that my mom and I text frequently updates on what I am doing. These texts don't interfere with what I am doing, but let's both of us feel at ease knowing where the other is. I also can use texting to express and issues I have that we can resolve easier than making many camp funded calls. But this is only my view on the topic. Feel free to let my opinion influence yours or you can certainly disagree as it's only an opinion. Know that your child may not be willing to go to a camp that restricts phones and be open minded about that, because I certainly would not go to a camp without any electronic communication! I hope this helped any parents who wanted to get more of an opinion from a teen's perspective!
Teen, 14 years old written by skylucario

Honestly, if you have alternate forms of communication--such as telephones intended for use by all campers or the post (seriously, isn't getting a letter from camp more reflective of one's desire to make the effort to talk to you and think about you and therefore more satisfying?)--there really is no need whatsoever for kids to bring their cell phones to camp. They--as well as concerned parents--survived without them at camps in the '80s and '90s, so why would it be any different now? Doesn't an abundance of calls make the experience less special for the parent and less enjoyable for the child, who may find the constant calls tiresome or unnecessary? I have no idea, as I've never been in either of those situations, but it's something to think about. The points of camps anyway are to get away from the norms of daily life, gain independence, forge new relationships (unless you're more introverted, in which case fun could be had in the activities and friendships possibly made by unexpected but beautiful circumstance), and engage in experiences otherwise unexplored. Most kids' lives revolve around the worlds contained inside their mobile devices; if they (unless disciplined) brought them with them to camp, the prospect of being able to use their phones during highly-anticipated breaks from activity would constantly dominate their thoughts rather than those of enjoying their summer. If they were to keep this mindset, they'd never actually be able to appreciate the fun that could be taken away from camp. We often draw the most enjoyment from things we don't particularly think we will and are forced to do, and that won't be realised by those with distractions. Why would they bother making friends when they could be bombarding friends at home with hourly status updates? Why would they bother enjoying an attempt, say, to kayak when the promise of normalcy lays ahead? Without enticing distractions, that wouldn't even be a premise or a problem. Sure, they could still take away the same amount of enjoyment with or without a mobile device, but that doesn't mean it'd be equally likely for them to do so. Sure, they could allow them and impose limits (and I'm not saying that all kids and teens are phone addicts), but that doesn't suppress motives to sneak extra minutes, and there really is no point for counselors to keep feeding the object of their addiction to them when they have likely been sent to camp in order to combat that. It detracts from the heart of the experience. And it's camp that, if cell phone-free, may penetrate the bounds of it and teach them to appreciate life in itself. I may be wrong about this entire thing as I am of a very meager (and therefore not intellectually respectable) age, but at least think about it.
Parent written by Pakmobileprice

I see you over there on the bench, messing on your iPhone. It feels good to relax a little while your kids have fun in the sunshine, doesn’t it? You are doing a great job with your kids, you work hard, you teach them manners, have them do their chores. Mobile Phone Prices
Teen, 15 years old written by wangfangs

Mobile children summer camp is necessary, if you have what thing, can be convenient contact head and parents. So for the children to safety, wearing a cell phones is a must!
Kid, 12 years old

In my opinion, mobiles at camp are not really ideal, I don't see the point, there may be activties (such as swimming) that mobiles are just not sutiable for. If there was ever an emergency at camp, parents would be contacted. Camp is just too fun to bring a mobile.
Adult written by CSM Screen name...

There is no matter if things are used well. mobile phones should be taken to camps just to convey urgent in-formations..the kids should be allowed to interact amoung themselves..they should actually spend time with nature n frnds..and not through mobile games and chats..!!! summer camps are always a great relaxation for kids..and according to me if they wish to do something lets allow them to do wotevr they want...its the role of our parents and gaurdians to hav an eye on our guide them and to lead them..!!!:)
Teen, 13 years old written by SockyChibi<3

I think they should if they keep it in a safe place. Like a tight pocket, or somewhere where no one can take it.
Adult written by PiperLady3

Again, posting as a former Girl Scout Camping Leader: Such a scenario (phones would be safe if kept in a tight pant's pocket) is impossible to maintain at a camp-- mud, rain, and dirty hands make even tight pockets useless for protecting phones. And, unless the pocket is zipped or something, camp activities can allow for phones to fall out of the tightest pockets. Overnight camping requires clothing changes, and swimming at camp requires no pockets or phones with the kid at the moment-- so the phone is left around somewhere. Nope.... Sorry... Camp is NEVER a safe place for keeping a cellphone, based on practical experience.
Adult written by RobAlister

Cell phones should not go along with a child to camp because that ruins the whole experience. They're supposed to be making friends and learning how to do things on their own. If they get to talk to their friends and family the whole time they might as well had just camped at grandma's house instead.
Adult written by Lumiere

Definitely no cell phones at camp. Bringing a cell phone flies in the face of what camp is about in the first place. Also, no computers (unless it's a 'computer camp'). Camp is (or at least was) about actual people interacting with actual people, not people interacting through electronic devices. Strange how safe we all were at camp before the invention of the cell phone. Anecdote: We anchored our boat in a pristine cove. The evening was heartstoppingly still. A loon's cry was the only sound. Then another boater came in and anchored. His TV was the loudest noise around for hours. I mean, honestly, what's the point? He could do the same thing at home. The idea of camp is a "different" experience, not just toting all the baggage from your life into some other location. Sheeesh...
Parent of a 10 and 14 year old written by kleinds

PHONES STAY HOME. My camp experience is with Boy Scouts. So that means my first year at camp kids are 11 years old. As a many year counselor at camp, I've seen kids who bring a phone find that they must call home to get through the night. They are not growing and stretching through their fear. They don't have the same sense of accomplishment when they way up in the morning and learn that they can get through he night and be OK. Many kids when having anxiety in the evening will want to call home. As soon as they hear mom's voice, the tears turn on and they beg to be picked up. When mom hears a crying child, she tends to want to come get him. If you were to ask that same kid the next morning about leaving, he'd say "Heck no, I'm having a great time!" I once read of a study that shows where kids who unplugged from family and went off to camp for a week had a much higher success rate than those who didn't purring their first year at college away from home. That's no surprise really. They've already learned that they can be independent. Ultimately I'm responsible for the safety and well-being of that boy and helping coach them through the choices they have at camp. When the boy has his phone, he's going to call home for direction and that cuts me out as the responsible leader. I'll hear after that mom "told me to take this class since that one was full." Or in other cases mom has shown up to pick up her "sick" child when I was never told anything was wrong in the first place. Remember the last questions of the article. Why are we sending our kids away to camp in the first place? What is the experience you want them to have. Let them have the experience. If you're having stress, you're the adult, that's OK, but perhaps you need some stretching and a new experience too :-)
Parent written by nateandrubysmom

I am appalled that people sneak cell phones into their children's camp stuff. Not because of the rule-breaking (although what kind of message does that send your child?) but because it is so, so important that children spend at least a tiny amount of time in this wired world unwired, interacting with nature and with the people directly around them. The skills of communication and how to have fun without technology that learned are irreplaceable (even if they seem to disappear the minute the kids get home). And the skills parents can learn by letting go are also irreplaceable. My daughter went to an absolutely tech-free camp (no online photos, no email, no nothing--you could call or they would call you for any real problem) for 4 years (until she aged out of it--wish she could still go) and she adored it. I treasure her hand-written letters from there and wouldn't trade them for a million phonecalls or texts. I also treasured the time to focus on myself and my husband. Sure I missed her--but I learned from that too. If anything goes seriously wrong, your children are being closely supervised at a good camp and you will be informed right away.Learning how to manage feelings without reaching out to parents is a crucial part of growing up. And often phone calls only exacerbate homesickness. No cell phones at camp. Ever!
Parent of a 15 year old written by thfc

My son went to what we thought would be a great time for him. He looked forward to going for months. They had a no cell phone policy, which at first look makes sense. He ended up being the target of a bully and even some of the good kids who didn't want to get bullied sided with the bully. He was a mess when we picked him up. I believe a call to us and we could have contacted the counseller would have put a stop to this and got help for the bully. I suggested a 'cell phone bank' where the kids check in their phone and are allowed half hour phone time at a set time each day. Cell phones are with us forever so I believe we need to adapt to the present, however, as parents we still have authority.
Parent of a 11 and 13 year old written by Dan H

As a father and Boy Scout leader, I have come to see the many wisdoms of "no electronics at camp" -- both at weekend campouts and week-long summer camp. Firstly, it avoids the issues of possible damage and/or loss. Secondly, I agree that for some kids, having access will INTENSIFY homesickness. In our Troop, younger boys dealing with a bit of homesickness are given attention and support not only from our adult leaders, but the older scouts, too. It is a learning experience for everyone: the young scout, his parents, and even the older scout. The adult leaders still have their cell phones phone for emergencies; that works for us.
Parent written by grinderdad

My daughters go to a sleep away camp for one week each summer. The camp has a "no cellphone" policy which we adhered to the first year. The second year we allowed my oldest daughter to bring a cellphone but instructed her that it is only to be used in a dire emergency. If it was used to whine, it would be the last week she would have the phone for 3 months. The second year, the last night, a tornado ripped through the campsite and the kids were evacuated to a secure shelter and put on lock down. That's when we found out that there was no service in their camp. I think it was better that she had it though. It all depends on the child.
Adult written by Sioux1996

I used to work full time for a summer camp. I worked in the central office working directly with parents and we specifically stated in our materials that cell phones could accompany the child to camp and from camp--but during camp they were turned off and locked in the camp valuables safe. Does it make kids more homesick? It can. Camper doesn't like the food, their counselor, their cabinmates, is upset that they didn't get their first activity choice--they call home, mom &amp; dad try to reason with them and soon it's constant calls and "come get me" requests. In short--cell phones at camp are a BAD IDEA, other than for use in travel. Parents need to trust that campers are safe, secure and having fun. If a child is homesick, it normally passes in 2 nights. Parents also need to NOT "make deals" with campers saying things like, "If you don't like it I'll come get you." This sets kids up and the first thing they don't like results in that plea.
Parent of a 13 year old written by BklynSF

NO - they need a break. Their brains need a break, their eyes and ears need a break. Peace in the summer - I say!
written by Anonymous

My camp has a no cell phone rule, but the reality is that if a kid has a cell phone they are going to bring it with them. I don't think that a kid bringing a cell phone is going to make them more homesick, in fact it will probably make them feel safer. I do bring a cell phone to camp.