It used to be that summer camp was a time of relative freedom for kids—a few weeks filled with bug bites, s’mores, ghost stories, and maybe even first kisses. It was also a respite for parents, but all that’s changed thanks to the blessing/curse of technology. Now, curious moms and dads can keep a watchful eye on their children all summer long thanks to photos that camps post online every day. So much for your blissful, childfree season of freedom—you’ve got to get online and hoverparent from afar!
So how did this horrific development occur? Well, some camps, no doubt aware of social media’s great marketing power and also catering to their parent-clients, have started posting photos on their own websites or on Facebook. But there’s also a growing photo and messaging site called Bunk1. Its founder, Ari Ackerman, tells TIME that the site’s photo galleries are the biggest draw, but the email system is also a hit. It allows parents to send kids one-way messages and add on bells and whistles like borders, baseball scores, or recent tweets from their kid’s favorite celebrity. Excuse me, I’ll just be over here weeping about that time we ruined childhood innocence forever.
Seriously though, Ackerman seems to have struck a parental anxiety goldmine. “Parents live for this,” he told the magazine. Oh, boy. Surely if they tried hard enough parents could find something better to live for? It is summertime after all. There are boat rides to go on, dinner dates, evenings free from soccer practice—hell, there are even wine coolers. Can’t Mom and Dad go back to being Rebecca and John for the week or month their kids are away and let all those adorable letters home from camp be enough?
Apparently not! TIME talked to parent Lauren Rosen, whose two kids are at camp in Maine. She’ll often check out photos of her kids if she can’t sleep, but it’s not just a casual peruse. She frets over whether her kids look happy, whether they’re in a group of friends or alone, about who braided her daughter’s hair, etc. Well, that sounds positively EXHAUSTING. As Rosen says, “I totally am stalking my kids.” Here’s the part where we chuckle as if it’s normal to obsess to such an extent over your offspring, but it’s actually sort of sick—and that’s exactly what Peg Smith, the CEO of the American Camp Association, calls it: “It’s not the kids who are homesick. It’s the parents who are kidsick.”
Yeah, somewhere high up in the sky (or deep in the ground) all of the mothers from centuries gone by who had to send their young kids off to work—or worse, war—and didn’t hear from them for months or years at a time are rolling their eyes hardcore at this generation of parents. When are we going to call ourselves on this madness and cut the cord?
Camp directors, for one, aren’t that excited about this development. Sam Perlin, who directs Camp Solomon Schechter in Washington, told TIME:
In the beginning, it was like, Wow, how cool. 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?
Jesus. Maybe the camp doctor should start handing out bottles of Xanax for moms and dads at drop off instead of the other way around. Honestly, parents are paying handsomely for the camp staff to shape and care for their children, so why not just let them do their job? If you trust someone enough to supervise your kids in the middle of the woods, you should probably trust them enough to call you if something is truly wrong.
But perhaps even more than worrying about whether it’s rude to be pestering camp staff, parents should be concerned about what their own need to be constantly connected is teaching their precious campers. Part of the point of camp, after all, is for kids to experience independence and learn to enjoy being away from mom and dad and the comforts of home. (It’s also a time for them to be away from Justin Bieber’s tweets.) If parents are constantly checking up on kids, it defeats the purpose of sending them away.
In this age when we are so on top of our children, these lessons on independence are even more crucial. Dr. Edward Walton, who coauthored a policy statement on homesickness for the American Academy of Pediatrics, recently told the New York Times, “Parents have been really good at protecting their kids, not letting them out of their sight.” But that often means that kids will have a harder time with homesickness and knowing how to handle themselves when their parents aren’t around.
According to Dr. Christopher Thuber, who co-authored the policy statement with Walton, one of the biggest contributing factors to homesickness is when parents express their own anxiety about the separation. As Thurber says, that includes “parents who express ambivalence — well-intentioned, loving parents who say, ‘Have a wonderful time at camp, I don’t know what I’ll do without you.’” This leads kids to worry not only about themselves but also about their parents. And apparently they should be worried! Who can have fun while thinking of their parents stuck at home, sitting in front of the laptop, obsessively clicking refresh?