Tips for Parents

The first year our son was in Scouts, we sent him off to summer camp by himself. Not really by himself, of course – he was with several trained leaders and a few dozen other kids from the troop, including guys who were buddies of his from school and Cub Scouts. But it was the first time he had been away from mom and dad for that long.

I think it was Wednesday that we got the letter – Mike was having a terrible time, camp was awful, and could we please, please come and get him right away.

My wife wanted to jump in the car and drive six hours to get him that night. I convinced her to hold off. Many kids get homesick at camp – something I knew from my own experience both as a camper and as a counselor – and it usually passes. If there was a real problem, I assured her, one of the leaders at camp would call us to let us know.

Sure enough, a day or two later Mike called to tell us what a great time he was having at camp. “I caught a fish, and finished my leatherwork merit badge, and….” I’m not sure he even remembered writing that letter back on Monday.

It is not at all uncommon for kids to get homesick at camp, especially their first time. Parents can do a lot to help with the situation. The steps I and other camp leaders recommend may seem counter-intuitive in some cases, but they’re based on many years of summer camp experience. The key is helping the boy to live in the moment – to stay focused on the activities he’s involved in at camp rather than dwelling on what he’s missing back home.

  • It helps if your son attends Webelos resident camp with a parent along, before he first goes off to Boy Scout camp on his own for a week. Our son had been to Webelos resident camp twice with his mom and I, and although he still got homesick his first time at camp without us, I think he got over it more quickly because camp was not a totally unfamiliar experience.
  • Your attitude before camp makes a huge difference. As much as you might want to tell your son how much you (and his siblings, Grandma, the dog, etc.) will miss him ... don’t. I’m not suggesting you lie to him about it or act as if you’re glad to get rid of him, but focus your conversations on the things he will be doing at camp, rather than what he will be missing at home.
  • Do not make promises that you will come get him early if…. Instead, help him to focus on how he can use the resources available to him at camp – his fellow campers, unit leaders, and the camp staff – to deal with any problems or concerns he has while away.
  • Send letters or even care packages. Make sure you mail them early enough to get to camp while he’s there. If you send them early, mark on the envelope what day you want us to give them to him. Keep the letters positive, and again focus on what a good time he must be having at camp, rather than what he is missing at home.
  • Don’t plan on phone calls to or from camp. Do not ask your son to call you and do not promise to call him. Most camps have limited phone service that might make it impossible for him to call or for you to reach him. More importantly, experience shows that boys often become more homesick, not less, after a call home. Talking to Mom or Dad makes them focus on what’s happening at home rather than what’s going on at camp.
  • For the same reason, do not allow your son to take a cell phone to camp, even if there is cell service available.