Summer Camp Blues

photo by D Sharon Pruitt @

Scenario: Your 11 year old daughter has been excited for many months about going away to overnight camp. She has gone to this same camp before and had a great time, but now you are receiving upsetting letters saying that she is homesick and would like to come home after two weeks, instead of three. You call the camp, talk to the assistant director who assures you that your daughter is having a good time. You see pictures on the camp website where it appears that she is having a good time. When you finally speak to your child, she says she just wants to come home. Simple as that. Nothing is really wrong, per se. She would just prefer to be home. Financially, you will lose $1000.

What would you do? Would you get your child and bring her home early? Or would you have her stay the final week? If so, what would you say to your child?

21 thoughts on “Summer Camp Blues

  1. As a long-time camp staff person, and as a former camp director, I’m wondering why you were able to talk to your camper? It’s generally a camp policy to not let kids talk with parents over the phone as it tends to completely exacerbate homesickness. Given her age, and her previous camp experience, I’m wondering if it has something more to due with girls and friendships and how her time is going at camp. I wouldn’t let her come home early.

  2. Let the kiddo come home – she’s been before with fun and success, but something is different/wrong this time. Trust her and forget the $1000. It’s not about getting your money’s worth, it’s about your child learning to take care of herself and trust herself and her intuition. I think that making her stay would be invalidating her needs. It could be that something happened that she doesn’t want to talk about yet.

  3. Call her and ask if there’s an emergency. If she describes one to her, respond of course. If she doesn’t, make her tough it out.

  4. Wow, that’s tough. Asst Dir claims child is having a good time, and pics make it look like child is having fun. However, you can’t really tell from the outside what’s going on inside the mind of an 11-year-old girl. (We ARE talking about a girl here, aren’t we? Has gender been changed to protect identity?) In any case, parent has spoken to child, and child claims nothing is wrong. Child has been away to camp before and has loved it. I would request to be able to allow child to speak to parent privately (not in an office with staff around), and see if child doesn’t then fess up something more. Perhaps child had a big fight with best friend at camp; other campers are making fun of her for something; got her period for the first time; the list is endless. However, if there really is a problem, again here is that opportunity to learn to work through a problem and hopefully overcome it. If there is still no real problem, I think I would have to insist that child remain at camp. Simply “preferring to be home” is not a good enough reason to 1) lose $1000, and 2) have child lose a week’s worth of experiences, fun, learning, etc. For all the reasons you talked about in your earlier posts, camp can be such a wonderful place. This is an opportunity to learn about following through on commitments made. Child committed to attend camp for 3 weeks, on parents’ dime.

  5. I’ve been through this with my pre-teen. Unless there was a real emergency, I would make her tough it out. If she really is homesick, well, sometimes life puts you in uncomfortable situations, you have to learn to deal with them. If no one is getting hurt, then there is a lesson that is worth the motherly guilt.

  6. As there does not appear to be anything wrong & she is safe, I’d leave her there. Talk it through with her when she comes home & really discuss it before sending her again.

  7. I went through this last year! I would let her come home knowing just what you wrote and nothing more… It takes a little while for kids this age to articulate what they are feeling and why. We let our son come home early last year because he just wasn’t having as much as fun as years past. I was glad we picked him up even though he himself had such mixed feelings about it – crying about possibly making the wrong decision, etc. We told him the decision was now up to us and he was staying home. He calmed down after that and when the other kids came home that summer, we discovered they did not have such a strong staff team and there were issues. He is back at camp this year and is having a fabulous time! Staying all the way through and enjoying every minute of it! He knows we hear him even though he doesn’t always know what is best…

  8. Oh this is a toughie. I’ve never had a kid go away to camp, and my camp experiences are limited to “two years in a row drill team camp” when I was in high school.

    Does the camp have a good reputation? Does the camp hire competent and child-centered personnel? Are other parents you know whose children are at the camp having similar issues with their kids?

    What is your gut instinct? Is it typical of your child to want to bow out of an activity before its scheduled end date? If this is the first time ever your child has regularly expressed a desire to be home, can this be taken into consideration as you attempt to contact your child (what are camp policies re: contacting child? Sorry – but if I feel a need to contact my child, s/he’d better be made available) and sort out “why”?

    Worst-case scenario, is there something going on with a staff member who makes your child feel uncomfortable – playing favorites, pitting kids against each other, overly-critical remarks to child, etc.? Is there a conflict between cabin mates? Is she feelng more stressed/depressed about being at camp this year compared to past years? How was your child in the days leading up to camp? Can your child come home early without being on the parental hotseat – as in, “explain yourself. Now.” – or can she have some space and time to organize her thoughts/feelings over what was going on?

    I hope camp directors have a good feel for whether kids are *truly* having a good time, rather than looking out for the dollar signs. Of course, it’s not like the camp loses money if you withdraw your child ahead of time. Remember the preschool kids who would sob uncontrollably when parent dropped them off, but be perfectly fine once the parent was out of sight? Is this, to some degree, what your child is experiencing – she’s fine, until it’s time to write letters home? Or is she just, for whatever reason, not ready/wanting to be far from home for that length of time, this year?

    Good tip from Faith – are there some hormonal things going on? Yes, definitely by age 11 and sometimes by age 10, the ol’ hormones are kicking in, and that can complicate life for any kid, let alone the well-adjusted one.

    Good luck. If it isn’t too much of an intrusion, or too personal, please share with us how you reached a decision? I’m sure there are a lot of parents who experience this with their kids and just don’t know what to do.

  9. You can come home sweetie, but as soon as you walk in the door you’re walking back out the door to get a job to pay me back the thousand bucks. Whattya gonna do when college time comes, Mom? Thousands bucks will seem like nickels then.

    1. Wow, Carl, that’s harsh! What kind of job is an 11-year-old supposed to get to earn a thousand dollars? I don’t think the issue here is merely the money, though I’m sure that’s part of it. That money has been paid whether the kid stays at camp or not, so either way, it’s gone. I think the bigger issue is, is there something serious happening that the parents don’t know about, in which case, maybe it’s best for kid to come home. Or, is kid just not that into camp this year, and would rather come home, in which case, no way – stick it out!

  10. FAITH, Aw shucks. Why, I was working in the ship yards when I was 7, did 4 years in the navy, and had the house paid off by 12 years old! Just kidding. I was not serious. Love your children with everything you have. I do.

  11. Well look, I’m only 17… but I’ll put in my 5 cents worth. Make her stay at the camp. Kids are tough, and it’s experiences at camp where they gain independence and learn to rely on themselves and their peers to ‘survive’ (clearly survive isn’t the right word… but I’m 17… the vocab is limited! :P)

    She might hate you for a while, might think she was treated unfairly… but think about whether your parents would have pulled you out of camp? I highly doubt they would have!

  12. If this were my child (and it is! hee hee) I would want to talk with him directly to find out if anything is wrong. If I could hear deperation and pain in his voice I would probably pick him up. If he told me there were no problems and that the staff and kids were nice, then I would encourage him to stick it out. I would follow up with the camp to see how he is doing, and I would be happy to hear that the assistant director followed up with the bunk staff, and to learn there was a problem, and even more happy to hear they had a “bunk meeting” worked it all out and now my child is happy to stay at camp until the end. My email to my son stating the importance of making efforts to work out small problems paid off, because he did open his mouth, and he did work them out. and I am proud of him and proud of the camp staff. (sigh of relief)

  13. Leave her! Ok, I didn’t mean that as harshly as it sounds. It’s a great growth experience, and she’ll learn that she needs to stick to her commitments and make the best of them. While it’s a tough lesson, she also needs to learn the confidence to stand on her own. It’s not like you are leaving her to fend for herself for the rest of her life, and deep down she knows you are still there to provide love and support. She’ll thank you later for NOT taking her home. As a former camp counselor, too, I think it’s more detrimental to make direct contact with your child–again, it goes to building confidence in her ability to manage herself, and to rely on a support system outside of her family. If you hear “desperation and pain” (quoting Lisa), it is going to break your heart and make it tougher for you to give your child their wings later on.

  14. I had the summer camp blues. The second day of camp I came down with 103 degree temperature and off to the infirmary I went. I wanted to go home. But an amazing thing happened everybody came to see me when I was sick and boy did I love the attention. I got to meet people from my bedside and when I was better… off to the campgrounds I went happily, excited to see my new friends and really play with them.

  15. I was a former camper from the age of 8 to 15. I loved camp and made many friends, but I was so homesick and would cry just about everyday and write gut-wrenching letters home to my parents. I knew my parents missed me and cared about me as much as I did them, and as an adult now I realize why I went and why it was so important for me to go. My mom told me why she wanted me to go is because I needed to grow and learn about who I am and that it is so important to have time away from each other. Thank you to CSL for making my experience so great!

  16. As a former 11 year old girl myself, I would let her come home. It can be very hard to identify and express feelings at that age. And even if there are no outward problems like bullying or teasing, the internal reason may still be serious to her and that’s what counts.

    People change, especially kids, after all they are growing, learning, becoming. Fun and happiness in years past, is, well, in the past.

    As someone else has said, the $1000 is spent whether she stays or not.

    1. So would this same logic prevail if she hit college and after a semester decided she wanted to come home? Or would you assume at that point, she would be able to better express herself. Because that would be a much bigger hit. If there is nothing wrong, per se, why not have a child complete that last week – if for no other reason than to have her finish what she started?

      1. I agree, Renee–camp seems like small potatoes in comparison to college. I don’t think letting your kid back out of something necessarily sets them in that pattern for the rest of their lives, but it does make it easier to establish a pattern. Our son wanted to play football one year (he was in 3rd grade), and liked it–UNTIL THEY GOT THE PADS AND STARTED TO HIT ONE ANOTHER. Then he wanted to quit. We told him he had made a commitment and the team expected him to be there. He never really “enjoyed” it, but played one more year–hoping that he had learned the basics and would get better at it and “enjoy” it. That didn’t happen, and we haven’t pushed him to do it again. He tried it (TWICE), didn’t like it, but he learned about the game. And he followed through. THAT was what was important to us.

  17. Yes, the cost of college puts a whole new perspective on things. My son got 40% scholarship, me 20% out of pocket(not counting airfares-16trips ,books, pocket money), and he owes 40% loans he’ll never be able to back with very low paying job. Will you mortgage your house and amass huge debt for an unsuccessful effort of child at college? But college is not for everyone and you have to go to find out which is a very expensive risk. The truly agonizing thing is that with outsourcing and companies operating over seas, the child faces a low paying job, no benefits, and no pension for a take it or leave it low paying job after graduation. I take such interest in this blog exchange because I was a teacher 34 years. And as a teacher I think the greatest thing a parent can give a child is an education so that the son or daughter will be able to sustain themselves after we parents go to rest with the Lord. Complicated, huh?

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