Summer camp in the age of Facebook

Facebook has no higher calling than when it is used to demonstrate to anxious parents that their children are still alive while they are away at camp.

Parkway kids ready for PASSPORTkids.
Parkway’s children ready to have their every move chronicled in photographs on Facebook. Oh, and they are also going to PASSPORTkids Camp in Crossville, Tenn.

I’ve recently been on both sides of this phenomenon. When our oldest when to Boy Scout Camp at Camp Rainey Mountain in Northeast Georgia a couple of weeks ago, there was radio silence. No word from him for seven days. We friended Camp Rainey Mountain on Facebook in the vain hope that we would catch a glimpse of him in a photo posted during the week.

This week I’ve been with our church children at PASSPORTkids camp in Crossville, Tenn. As chaperone my chief duty – other than make sure no one died – was to chronicle the week on Facebook so parents could see how much fun their children were having as they were having it. Rebecca, our children’s minister, used her Nikon to take the “high quality” images for sharing after the event. I used my smartphone camera to shoot and post immediately. The one-two photographic combo worked pretty well.

Facebook’s contrasting role in these two camp experiences begs the question: if it doesn’t happen on Facebook, does it really happen at all?

Social media in and of itself is not good or bad. It is simply a communications tool. How we use it determines its value. It can help us stay connected with family and friends, or it can consume us by creating an insatiable appetite for personal information. It’s gossip on steroids.

When it comes to camp, it’s nice to see images of our kids having a good time. And if we can be content with seeing the occasional shot of them in a canoe (life jacket properly fastened, of course), playing soccer (scoring goals) and participating in worship or performing on stage, then I think that’s great.

However, if we as parents sit, smart phone in hand, hitting refresh continuously, waiting to see the next image of our child so we can convince ourselves that they are OK without us, then there’s a larger problem. Facebook can feed our worst “helicopter parenting” tendencies, sometimes without us even being aware of it.

Mail call
The way parents communicated with kids at camp before Facebook. Brendan opens his care package on Day 2 of camp. It contained lots of breath mints. He had the freshest breath in camp, hands down.

As a chaperone, I was conscious of getting images of each of our children posted to Facebook as often as a spotty cell signal would allow. We were at camp, after all. I heard nothing but positive feedback from the Parkway parents, and I am not accusing any of them of abusing Facebook’s never-blinking eye to maintain a connection with their children.

But I think the temptation is there. I know, I know, easy for me to say, I was with the kids all four days at camp. That’s where my Camp Rainey Mountain experience was helpful. As I shared in New South Essays two weeks ago, I had my own parental anxiety about not hearing from Barron for a week, and though I scoured Facebook for images, I think it was better for me not to know what was happening with Barron every second of the day.

In the New South, Facebook changes the nature of the camp experience – not for the children, but for their parents. Whether that’s a good change or a bad change is up to you.

Do you appreciate or question Facebook’s role in keeping up with your kids when they’re away? How is your children’s camp experience difference from yours? Is the separation really separation if you have Facebook? Share your thoughts in a comment below.