An Open Letter From a Camp Director- Campers, Parents and Social Media

A few thoughts from a Camp Director. An educational letter to parents sending their children to summer camp, the use of social media and Whatsapp groups.

FacebbokDear Parents,

We are ready and excited for Mesorah 2017. We have spent the past 10 months planning in order to give our campers the best summer experience possible. Another sold out season with over 1,100 amazing campers and staff members – all of whom are a Director’s dream.

We want only the best for our campers. I am often asked the question: What do you work on throughout the year? Here is the answer. We plan and prepare during our “off season” with our staff so that during the summer our campers will:

  • Learn about responsibility and daily routine
  • Meet new friends and learn how to socialize in an appropriate and healthy manner
  • Problem solve without parental pressure and involvement
  • Break free from the dependence of smart phones, social media and electronic devices
  • Cultivate their own personalities
  • Participate in the most cutting edge programs with professional sports players and creative art specialists
  • Most importantly develop a love for Torah filled with ruach

I enjoy that first moment when the campers arrive to camp. There is an amazing look on their faces when they see friends they have not seen in person during the year. It’s the friendship and bond they will experience 24 hours a day without the intrusion of technology. Within 10 minutes of arriving, all campers hand in their cell phones for the summer and I have news for the outside world: While some are hesitant at first because the cell phone is a yearlong addiction, within 10 minutes their phones are forgotten. Almost immediately, campers are in their bunks, hanging out, playing ball and we hear the beautiful sound of socializing and excitement in the air. This is the reality of camp.

Our jobs as parents: Let’s set the stage for a successful summer for our children in a positive way. Why do we need to have negativity in our lives and then pass that along to our children, which may cause them to be nervous during the summer? Parent’s social pressures do not need to be shared with their children and we should not think for a minute that what bothers us as parents bothers them too. In addition, it’s important for children to learn resilience and conflict resolution. It’s ok for them to be nervous and have a child in their bunk who they are not great friends with. In the future, they probably will have to work with people who they may dislike and have to figure out how to get along with to be successful in school and in “real life”. What better place to learn that than in the “fun and relaxed” atmosphere of summer camp.

What have we done? We have developed the most exciting program for your children for 7 weeks. They enjoy every minute of it. Yes, there are rules and procedures – all put in place for the safety and security of our children. I have always encouraged parents to communicate with me at any time; I would do anything for our campers, to see their continued success. Even if after a conversation a rule or decision is not changed to your satisfaction, remember that we are listening to you, respect you and take note of our discussions. As we often tell our children “no” is still an answer – it may not be the answer you are looking for, but it is the best answer/decision for those circumstances.

After such conversations/policy announcements, often the next step is to post on a social media platform. Social media usage can be positive if used correctly. At times it has been used as a platform for conversations that don’t belong in the public eye. Private Whatsapp groups have been created to discuss potentially contentious topics, instead of using the “old fashion” plan of communicating directly with the administration. What is even worse is that rumors begin about items that are not even true; richilus and lashon hara are being shared for no reason. We often think that our children are not following these conversations and communications but they do hear and know about them and as a result, will start the summer with their parent’s preconceived notions in their minds.

Bullying is one of the most important topics that we all focus on in school, camp and at home. What’s interesting to me is the actions we don’t want our children participating in or being recipients of, we ourselves are doing on social media. Facebook has become the place where a policy from an institution is highlighted and mocked, instead of calling the institution and asking for a logical explanation. There will be times that you may agree with a policy and times that you won’t. That is OK because you are not always aware of the entire picture which precipitated a change in policy. That does not mean that one has to air any “dirty laundry” on social media or in a Whatsapp group. Ask questions – but of the right people. In my experience as an educator and camp director, children like to learn the “why” and when decisions and topics are explained to them logically, they learn and respect those decisions and are more inclined to follow them. I sit with campers for hours talking about rules and decisions that they may not agree with – they do want to understand what factors lead to certain decisions. They need to have a chance to learn and to discuss without being influenced by social media platforms and our negativity.

As we prepare for the summer, you will see all of the excitement and cutting edge programs and events that we have planned for your children. You will also receive rules and expectations that are implemented for the benefit and safety of your children. I ask that you refrain from using social media and other communication outlets to express any negative feelings you may have about them and focus on our children’s growth in a happy and health way. I encourage you to call and discuss topics with our administrative team. They are wonderful people, role models and top educators. Your children will enjoy life more and learn better from their life experiences without undue influence from social media and Whatsappp groups. Look for all of our positive posts on Facebook and Instagram. Like them, share them and enjoy the great moments that our children are experiencing.

If you have any questions or concerns feel free to call me at any time.

Looking forward to an amazing and safe summer!

Ari Katz


Choosing a Summer Camp

Over the last fifteen years, I have watched many families, students and campers trying to decide which camp or school to attend.  This process clearly has had its challenges in the last number of years. Can it be that the IPhone era has plagued today’s society?

Let me explain what I mean. Think back just ten years ago. There was a method to choosing a school. Many of the significant components were Hashkafa, values, teachers, quality in education, Ivrit B’Ivrit, friends and programs. Let’s not forget that after deciding on a school, the child would remain there unless a serious issue arose.

Choose your Summer Camp

Look also how people would choose a camp for this child — and for the many exciting years that would follow (although I believe that schools are not much different in this process). I use the words “many exciting years” because there is a reason why you are choosing this particular camp – you want this camp to be THE camp for your family for many year, to become part of your family – and not be looking for another camp every year. You feel connected to this camp – it meets your standards in so many ways. Some of these key factors are Hashkafa, the experience of the Camp Directors and Head Counselors, the individualized program for each child, supervision, safety, an exciting program and most importantly the training of all staff.  (Unfortunately, there are some families who don’t use these standards but are influenced by hype, discounts – other institutions may offer a similar package if asked – which camp will allow cell phones and so many other distractions.)

Over the last few years it has become acceptable, and almost the norm, to change schools and camps every few years. For some families, it’s year after year. I recently spoke to a student who spent his four years of high school in four different schools; there was no major issue that occurred that resulted in the family and schools needing to part ways. It was just what they did.

And, when it comes to camp, similar patterns are taking place year after year. It’s not uncommon for campers to try multiple camps throughout their camping years.

What has changed in our society? The iPhone concept has changed our society.  Think back to the times when we listened to an entire cassette in the car, enjoying the whole album. A short time later, the more luxurious cars were able to fast forward to a specific a song and you had to wait about ten seconds. In recent years, when was the last time someone listened to an entire album on the iPhone? Watch how the younger generation uses their iPhonea. They are constantly “flipping”. Flip to the next song, flip to the next game and flip to a new app. Our children’s generation has been trained to flip to the next thing after a few seconds. Bored or bothered by something? Flip to the next song or activity; don’t allow the song or game to play out further to see if it is something you might enjoy after awhile.

This has impacted our youth in many ways, especially when it comes to conflict resolution. For example a student may not like the way a teacher handled a situation in school. As a result the student wants to change classes to another teacher that s/he thinks maybe so much better. Ultimately, this method of “coping” translates into constantly changing schools and camps. In a society of iPhones the “flipping” method is so much easier then dealing with the situation by problem solving. As parents it has become easier to have the child change his environment then spend the time with conflict resolution. We must deal with this reality and work on these issues. This is not the sole cause of constant change but certainly plays a key role when a child is not receiving immediate satisfaction. Conflict resolution and not always having instant gratification are things that need to be taught at school and home. Children will need these skills to maintain their jobs in the future.

We must choose a camp or school because we believe in it. Not because it’s easier then dealing with a conflict that can be rectified by change.

Cell Phones In Camp

It is with great excitement that I write the very first of my weekly posts discussing various topics related to camp and education. At times these two subjects work hand in hand and can be relevant throughout the year.

If you had to guess, what would you say is one of the most common questions that a camp director is asked? As a Director I would have to say ARE CELL PHONES AND ELECTRONICS PERMITTED IN YOUR CAMP? 

                                           Cell Phones 2

I want to begin by stating that I believe that when computers, IPads and IPhones are used in the right way, many wonderful things can be accomplished. For example, I had students who were not succeeding in school by conventional standards, but they are computer geniuses.  They put together the most amazing websites and school videos, and when technology was integrated within the lesson, they achieved significantly.

Sleepaway camp is a wonderful time for campers to interact with their peers and counselors without distractions. Picture a day of fun: kids enjoying motor boating, sports leagues, developing a cheer, color war and so much more, all without feeling the need to break every 5 minutes to check their phones to see what their friends are texting or tweeting. Rather they get to talk, enjoy and strategize with their friends on how to win a sports game or be a part of planning a fun activity with their bunk or counselors. It’s not a complicated social interaction – it can be as simple as sitting around a camp fire and roasting marshmallows, just socializing with friends in a healthy, face-to-face way.

Too often I have seen cell phones prevent maturity and growth in a camper during the summer. In today’s day and age with calls to Directors and Head Counselors, e-mails, thousands of pictures being posted on camp websites everyday, a parent can easily get a sense of how their child is doing in camp in a matter of minutes. I know in our camp the camp mothers, division heads check on the children regularly (even with hundreds of campers) and are in constant contact with the parents. After all, parents have (hopefully) done a tremendous amount of research before they register their child in camp, when they are entrusting their child to a camp which they see as an extension of their own family.

While this constant interaction is very beneficial for the parent, constant contact for the camper may impede on the tremendous growing experience that camp has to offer.  How? Campers need to see the entire picture, experience the environment and meet everyone throughout the camp before they should formulate an opinion about their experience. There are many campers who like camp instantly and do not need any adjustment period. There are other campers that within minutes hate a camp without even seeing the entire picture of the camp experience nor getting to know the members of the bunk. There are those who love camp, but suddenly decide that they dislike camp, just because they lost a hockey game.

Campers need to learn how to socialize with their peers, staff members even when there are difficulties and disagreements. Isn’t that what the real world is like, especially in the work environment? Schools, and particularly summer camps, need to work on improving children’s social skills and problem solving skills on a daily basis, in addition to all the amazing programs and sports activities that are taking place. Often, cell phones stunt that growth as camper’s feelings change by the minute in camp. I once had a camper who lost the basketball championship; he called home and declared that he didn’t like this camp anymore. Twenty minutes later, while he was enjoying an amazing activity, he texted his parents and said “Never mind, this place is awesome.” That parent called me that evening and asked for the phone to be confiscated. They wanted their son to enjoy camp life without running to his parents for every issue.

We, as adults and parents, need to give our children space and give them a chance to just “be kids” and learn to deal with certain social situations without the “crutch” of a cell phone. Every experience in camp and school may not be so perfect but we have to give our children the opportunity to try to solve the problem without our parental input. There are many experienced staff members they can turn to for help in these situations – part of the maturation process is learning how to resolve issues without turning to Mommy and Daddy.

All these being said, I do believe that it is important for campers to speak to their parents every once in a while and express their excitement about camp and discuss what they have achieved, or if there are larger issues, discuss them with the parents. That is why we allow the campers to have their phones on trip days. One helpful idea is that when your child does call on a trip day try and discern, during your conversation, what are “real” issues and what are not. If a child is not picked to be the captain of her team that day, that is not a reason to be alarmed. Other complaints expressed may warrant concern and should be explored with the camp upper staff.  Always remember — when we immediately agree with your children without hearing and understanding all the facts, it can put your children at a social disadvantage when there is really nothing wrong.

The summer is an exceptional chance for children to grow – to learn how to interact with campers from other communities and even other countries, grow friendships with these new friends, and hone their inter-personal and conflict resolution skills.

At times, the constant presence of cell phones and other technologies can impede that growth. Yet, it is crucial to remember that cell phones and texting are great for communication when they are used in a healthy way.

Click here for a great article regarding cell phones in camp!