Parents, kids fear experience

The Fourth of July always meant summer to me, and summer, when I was very young, meant summer camp. And summer camp meant disappearing into another world.

It was a world of woods and fields and bunks, a world without Mom and Dad, without friends from the neighborhood, without TV, without movies, a world where you wrote letters to communicate with your "other" life.

You know what? That never scared me.

Today, kids get the shakes about summer camp, because they might have to surrender their cell phone, BlackBerry, Droid, PDA, iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad. Some will opt out of summer camp altogether if it means they can't arrive with their plugs, adapters, chargers and monitors.

Apparently, it's a dilemma for summer camps, which, after all, need kids to operate. And it's obviously a dilemma for the campers. But after looking into this a bit, you know whose dilemma surprises me the most?

The parents'.

It is often Mom and Dad who want little Joey to be in touch at all times. It is Mom and Dad who can't bear the thought of not having their baby within the press of a speed dial.

Check out the message boards and forums on camp websites. You will find a startling number of postings by parents who think their kids SHOULD have cell phones all through summer camp. Some worry about safety. Some worry about their child's loneliness.

Consider this parental response to a Houston Chronicle article about camps limiting cell phones:

"Without some means of timely communication, hormonal preteens are left in the control of teens and adults they don't know -- and at increased risk of sexual abuse."

"Yes, it can be a pain ... but, if it also raises a few red flags, as in 'Oh, I'm doing great. I'm Tim's favorite so he sneaks me candy in the evening,' limited cell phone use is invaluable."


So now summer camp is one more hangout for pedophiles, and those who don't look for "red flags" are irresponsible parents? It brings me back to a question I ask more and more these days: How did we ever make it through childhood?

Apparently, there was danger lurking at every turn. Horrible people. And we just lucked our way through.

Or maybe today's freaked-out parents are the result of too many shocking news stories, too many ads and too many manufacturers who know the quickest way to a sale is to make people believe they're safer with the product than without.

The fact is, every counselor isn't a pedophile, and little Timmy, if he's old enough for overnight camp, doesn't need to talk to Mommy and Daddy every minute. Meanwhile, if a kid has a cell phone, he usually then has a texting device, a camera, an Internet connection and a 24-hour connection to social networks like Facebook.

So I'm in favor of a ban on all electronic devices once you step on that camp bus. I fear kids are losing the ability to exist.

When we went to camp, we were in the moment. We jumped in the pool; we didn't film ourselves jumping in the pool. We spoke while looking eye to eye; we didn't text each other across the bunk.

Kids who have to give up their smartphones or computers for summer camp -- thereby losing touch with Facebook -- worry about becoming invisible. But they are erasing themselves from the real world every minute they spend in the virtual one.

Kids need to learn that memories are not the same as storage devices and feelings are not the same as postings. I can sure remember the heat of a campfire on my face, the freeze of a Popsicle on my lips, the sweaty shirt that stuck to me after a baseball game, the excitement of a letter from home.

Remember, as kids, we didn't have any problem letting go for the summer.

As parents, we shouldn't either.

Contact Albom at malbom@freepress.com.