.Dear Free-Range Kids: Since all three kids are now back from the various camps they’ve attended this summer, I’ve been doing some reflection. I don’t recall summer camps being nearly as overprotective when I was a kid. We could do things like go to the bathroom on our own, at least. But in the scout camp that my younger girls attended, all activities were done with a group and kids were never to be out of sight of their counselor. The one exception is if you wake up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom, you “only” have to wake up a “buddy” to go with you (and this included the camps where they slept in a cabin/lodge that had a bathroom right in it)..Then I discovered it got worse. At the Y camp they attended later in the summer, you had to wake up the counselor and *two* other people to use the bathroom at night. I tell you, if I were a counselor, the first time someone woke me up to use the bathroom, they would *all* be getting up and using the bathroom. It’s crazy that someone who gets paid $35/day to work basically 24/7 can’t even get through a night without being woken up multiple times just because someone has to go..In fact, this traveling in groups of threes (called “treadies”) applied to all situations (because, I’m told, if one person gets hurt — which happens frequently on 50 foot trips to the bathroom, I suppose — then one person can stay with that person while the other person goes to get help)..I suppose I should be thankful that at least during the day a counselor didn’t always have to be part of this “tready,” but it applied anywhere the kids went, including from the pool to the lockerroom. My daughter complained that she nearly had to pee in the pool because she couldn’t find two other girls to go to the locker room with her. I’m thinking forcing kids to pee in the pool poses its own safety issues, no? Anyway, the locker room is roughly 20 feet away – and clearly visible from – the pool..And then my fifteen year old went to science camp at the University of Illinois where it was stated upfront that never would the girls (it was an all girls camp) be allowed out of the dorms without counselor supervision. The whole program had to troop everywhere together – to classes, out for evening entertainment, you name it..When I was twelve through fourteen I attended a music camp at U of I and we *had* to be on our own. We didn’t even have counselors, just RAs like the university students have in the dorms. There were about 50 kids per RA and we all had different classes at different times in different buildings. And in the evenings and weekends we had complete freedom to walk the campus, go to local restaurants and entertainment spots, etc. I even had an older friend who lived in Champaign who picked me up for a day each time (and his name certainly wasn’t on any “approved pick up” list, because there was no such list)..And speaking of pick up, I had to present my ID to pick up my fifteen year old from this camp, I guess because at the tender age of 15, she’s not able to recognize her own parents..
The mom goes on to say that there should be some Free-Range camps (and, for that matter, Free-Range schools and after-school programs) where parents sign waivers saying, “I allow you to give my child some age-appropriate freedom and if something goes wrong I won’t sue.”
The big question is how to get there?
The first step is trying to dial back the idea that kids are in constant danger so they need constant supervision. Then it’s insisting that the insurance companies accept the idea that not all accidents can be prevented. I don’t know how to do that, but that’s an issue. And so is the perception that insurance and/or laws DO forbid unsupervised time, even for kids who are 15. Some freedoms are yanked for no reason other than, “It’s probably not allowed.”
So our work is across the board: Reminding society that kids until now have always had some unsupervised time, that this doesn’t make them outrageously unsafe, and that stunting them is costly psychologically and even monetarily (extra layers, extra lawyers).
Please let us know what new security precautions your kids had at camp, and if you have come up with a way to fight back the ones that don’t make sense. – L.