Should camp friends hop online in the off-season?
Rustic, outdoor living has always been a core value of summer camp. Even Alexander Graham Bell complimented camp directors for not bringing his invention into their woods. Really.
But if all goes well, one outcome of your son or daughter’s electronics-free experience this summer will be a handful of close friends. And starting around age 11, those youngsters will want to stay in touch after camp, during the school year. Handwritten letters were once the only way to maintain an off-season camp friendship. And although I contend it’s still the best way, I concede that texting, Facebook, Tumblr and other social media are here to stay.
The primary social dangers that exist at camp—cliques and bullying—also exist online. The difference is that at camp, social interactions are supervised. A well-trained camp counselor (such as one who has completed a course with ExpertOnlineTraining.com) can spot social aggression and redirect it immediately. Online, such monitoring is challenging, though not impossible. The trouble is, few parents bother to read their children’s texts or monitor their Facebook posts.At some point, probably around age 16, teenagers who have been brought up to behave with integrity online need to be trusted to function autonomously on the Internet. Prior to that age—or whatever age you, as a parent, determine is appropriate—parents should actively monitor their progeny’s behavior on social media websites.
But what are you looking for, exactly? Well, each year, there are a few camp directors who discover exclusive or downright nasty online groups that have formed around a nascent camp clique. Typically, these come to light when the excluded children complain to their parents. But before your own son or daughter is on the giving or receiving end of cyberbullying, you can:
• Talk with your child about your expectations for virtual-world behavior, just as you have been guiding his or her real-world behavior since birth.
• Discuss the importance of inclusion in friendship groups, whether they are online or offline. In this context, ask them about their plans to keep in touch with camp friends.
• Ask the camp’s director whether there is an officially sanctioned online forum, Facebook page, Twitter feed or bulletin board where camp friends can gather and share.
• Put the computer your youngster is using in a public space in your home, such as the kitchen. That way, you can keep an eye on their online behavior. You want see everything they are doing, of course, but they are less likely to misbehave in your presence.
• Parents who let their youngsters have phones should randomly check text messages, simply to verify what their children are saying to their friends. Yes, your kids are smart and they can hide things from you, but again, the goal is to make them less likely to misbehave.
As newfangled technology emerges, such as leave-no-trace text messages that vanish one minute after they are opened, the importance of old-fashioned face-to-face conversations between parents and their children becomes even more important. Keeping camp friendships alive online means keeping family connections strong on the home front.
Enjoy the summer!
Dr. Christopher Thurber