Giving kids independence is part of the camp experience

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published March 15, 2017


METRO DETROIT — Sleep-away camp is a great chance for kids to learn some important problem-solving skills and build a little bit of independence.

And that’s a lesson that’s even more valuable to today’s kids, according to Henry Ford Macomb Hospital child therapist Ashton Taylor.

“The reality is that a lot of these kids want to go straight for their phone, and it’s limited their communication ability. I make it a rule when families come to see me and I’m getting to know (children): They’re not allowed to have their phone with them,” Taylor said.

Because smartphones and communication devices are essentially a form of “instant gratification,” with on-the-spot answers and responses, kids can be slow to develop the coping mechanisms they need to be emotionally independent without reaching for a quick fix from Mom and Dad.

 To make sure campers have fun while they’re away and don’t hang too tightly onto those apron strings, Taylor said to limit communication between camping kiddos and parents at home to snail mail.

“Too much contact when they’re at camp can absolutely take away from the experience. If they get homesick, having access to phones might actually make it worse, because it doesn’t allow them to work through what they’re feeling and handle things on their own,” she explained. “It also gives them a chance to live in the moment and not through an app, like Snapchat or Instagram. So many kids just don’t know how to live in the moment anymore.”

But mailed correspondence doesn’t have to be long, gushy letters about how much the family misses their camper. A little levity can be best for both ends of the connection, especially when it comes to easing homesickness.

That was the idea Sarey Ruden, of Birmingham, had when she developed her line of greeting cards for campers. She created designs aimed at the kids in bunks and their folks back at home, and they’re anything but sappy.

“I thought of things that were weird but could be turned into art; things kids might say from camp and parents might say back,” Ruden said. “I think kids can appreciate the humor in things from home like, ‘We turned your room into a gym,’ and they might hang it up by their bunk beds. It’s a way for them to know their parents are with them without being embarrassed.”

The cards were originally created to raise funds for a local charity that sends kids to summer camp, but they were such a hit that she hopes to have more interest from families as summer nears.

“They’re irreverent and fun, and a lot of people I spoke to said they would look forward to sending them or getting them,” she said.

With that, the chatter between parents and campers should be complete while kids are away. And parents, that means no bugging the counselors behind your kid’s back, either.

“Have a discussion with your child before they go and let them know what they can expect: You won’t be calling them, and they shouldn’t be calling you unless it’s an emergency. Let them know they can go to a counselor or nurse there — identify those adult supports — but as parents you shouldn’t be checking in with counselors, either. Let (kids) be advocates for themselves.”

To see Ruden’s cards and other artwork, visit