Ensure a Happy Summer Camper
It's not just the 6 million American kids heading to summer camp who may have trouble adjusting. It's also their parents.
Florence Leon first went to overnight camp when she was 12.
Through umpteen leathercraft wallets and throat-numbing singalongs until she
was a college-aged bunk counselor, she logged only great summer memories and
experiences. "Two of my best friends today I met at camp," she says.
"And that was 35 years ago."
But what's on her mind as this summer unfolds is how her son,
at 12, will sail through his maiden journey into that cherished family
tradition. Frankly, admits the Philadelphia social worker, she's worried about
Stefan. Not so much about pillow-soaked bouts of homesickness, the probable
chance of lost or unwashed underwear, or even the one-in-a-zillion chance that
his counselor is a pedophile.
She's concerned about his skin. "What if he gets an
infected mosquito bite? Who will make sure he wears sunscreen? When he's at
camp, who will do the things I do for him, like make sure his skin is
protected? Some teenager I don't know from Adam who has to look after a dozen
It will continue through the summer: Some 6 million American
youths heading to the nation's 10,000 summer camps, many carrying extra socks,
self-addressed postcards, and angst. While fleeting homesickness affects as
many as 95% of campers, about one in 11 will likely develop real anxiety
disorders caused by these vacations -- along with their parents.
"Separation anxiety is the most common camp-related
problem, for both kids and their parents," says psychologist Anne Marie
Albano, PhD, of the New York University Child Study Center.
"But many also have social anxiety -- an extreme fear in
worrying that people won't like them -- or generalized anxiety in which they
worry about catastrophic events. And these problems often come in packages.
"Since we know that anxiety tends to run in families, and
children model their behavior in what they see their parents do, when you see
kids anxious about attending camp, that often translates to anxious parents of
those campers. Sometimes, the parents have it worse. And unfortunately, they
show this to their kids."
At Camp Shane, an overnight weight-loss camp in the Catskill
Mountains, the staff is prepared to deal with these self-induced or
family-fueled camper problems in its 500 attendees.
"Because our campers are overweight, they have a lot of
emotional issues -- low self-esteem, lack of friends at home, so there's often
a lot riding on their coming here," says camp owner and director David
"Our counselors are trained, and we have a guidance staff
made up of school counselors, psychologists or social workers to deal with any
camper problems, along with a grandmotherly type 'Camp Mom' who goes
"But in truth, the vast majority of kids are fine. Yes,
they miss their parents, but they adjust, make friends, have fun, and can't
help but lose weight," he tells WebMD. "It's their parents who I
sometimes worry about. Just yesterday, I had one mother who couldn't stop
crying as she dropped off her child. And then I got a call from another who
already did, worried about homesickness and wanting to come to take him