Has Summer Camp Gone Too Glam?
When I was nine years old, my parents dropped me off one summer day for my first day of camp. To commemorate the occasion, they found the biggest, freshest pile of horse poop in the corral, handed me a shovel, and forced me to pose for a picture. The resulting snapshot, with me looking as dour as a tween has ever looked, still makes them cackle with glee. After making me suffer this indignity, they unceremoniously left.
Needless to say, I was not prepped for camp by getting a fresh blowout.
Every summer, we’re treated to stories of all the ways that camping has turned from a yearly roughing-it rite of passage to something more akin to a pint-sized four-star resort. Forget drinking bug juice and eating hamburgers—some camps offer menus created by celebrity chefs, along with options for nut-free, gluten-free, dairy-free, and all other manner of discerning palates, to be fastidiously managed by camp staffers. Forget macramé and Popsicle stick art—some camps offer courses in polo and fox hunting. Although traditional camps are still located in rural areas along the Atlantic seaboard, nowadays campers can journey to Australia, the Virgin Islands, or Europe for specialized courses of study.
Last year, the New York Times shed light on the latest development to hit Lake Winnepesaukee: children and their families traveling to camp via private planes. What, you thought they should drive? Heavens no, especially for visiting day. Why spend hours in a car to get to visiting day when for only a few thousand dollars more, you can pop over and back in a rented Cessna? It really just makes so much more sense.
This week, the Times shed light on how tweens are handling grooming issues while at camp—with pre-departure waxes, facials, and keratin hair straightening treatments. Tweenhood is a hard time, parents say, and it just gives frizzy-haired girls one less thing to worry about when they’re trying to make friends away from home.
Take it from me: being a frizzy-haired girl standing next to a pile of horse poop can do a lot to build your character. Just like when, on the first day of camp, you smack facefirst into a gate, giving yourself a cut that requires stitches. I learned that one the hard way another year. Once I was patched up and given strict instructions not to put my head underwater for the duration of camp (!), my parents looked at me and said, “Well, that really stinks for you. Have fun!” No accommodations were made, no camp directors called, no special privileges granted.
Children are sent to camp not just to bring back shell art and learn to play capture the flag. Parents send their kids away so that they can start learning valuable skills like self-reliance, problem-solving, and independence. Although it may be tempting to preempt every tricky issue a son or daughter might have, it’s in learning how to navigate those issues on their own that builds the character that parents claim to crave so desperately. We tend to focus so much on the character-building that comes with building new relationships and trying new things that we forget that there’s a lot of value in small quotidian things, too. Like learning how to take care of your hair or navigate your diet or survive a long car trip or to simply deal when things get inconvenient and unfair. And how can kids learn to handle the big stuff if they’ve never had to handle the small stuff first?
Call me crazy, but a camp experience that involves consultants, private jets, and bikini waxes just doesn’t feel like real camp. What do you think?