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Summer Camp Makes Room for E-Contact

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Summer Camp Makes Room for E-Contact

Digital Life

Summer Camp Makes Room for E-Contact

Summer Camp Makes Room for E-Contact

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Sleepaway camp is a time for kids to be on their own, making new friends and enjoying nature. But today's families are used to staying connected through cell phones and text messaging. So camps are finding ways to adapt.

ANDREA SEABROOK, Host:

From NPR News, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Andrea Seabrook.

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

Summer camp isn't what it used to be. It wasn't too long ago that parents were waiting for a scribbled postcard to find out what their kids were doing at sleepaway camp. Today, they can log on to their computers and take a look, see for themselves.

From member station WNPR Diane Orson reports.

DIANE ORSON: Camp Chinqueka sits on the edge of Mount Tom Pond in the hills of Litchfield, Connecticut. For more than 50 years, it's been a place for girls to meet new friends, enjoy fresh air and physical exercise. Campers can choose from all kinds of activities, like swimming, archery, arts and crafts.

KRIS EBNER MARTIN: This is the war canoe team. We have a canoe race against the boys next Thursday.

ORSON: One activity that's crossed off this year's list is computers, says Director Kris Ebner Martin. Last year, computers were part of the camp's journalism program. But girls were spending too much time indoors.

EBNER MARTIN: They don't need that. They can learn to go away and make new friends and not have that constant connection with everything they're comfortable with.

ORSON: But parents can connect to Chinqueka by logging on to the camp's Web site. Each evening, there's a new gallery of photos showing what kids have been up to that day. Nearly half of America's camps offer a similar service. Some camps maintain their own Web sites. Others turn to online companies like Bunk1.com, which works with more than 2,000 camps nationwide. Founder and CEO Ari Ackerman:

ARI ACKERMAN: Parents are addicted to this thing. They log on hundreds of times a day, literally, just to see if pictures have been uploaded since the previous day. And believe me, if they don't see their kid, we hear about it.

ORSON: Ackerman says the more photos, the better because parents worry about their kids a lot.

ACKERMAN: We hear, where is my child? Is he okay? I haven't seen a picture of him in two days. If the child hasn't changed their T-shirt a few days, we'll get calls from parents. I saw a little scratch on his arm. What happened? I just want to make sure he's okay.

ORSON: Some camps offer live video streaming and podcasts, along with one-way e-mail and special stationary for Fax-back replies. Other camps want to remain technology-free. Most forbid campers from using cell phones. Parents who depend on that immediate electronic connection with their kids during the rest of the year may have a hard time going cold turkey.

EBNER MARTIN: You guys all have your sunscreen?

ORSON: Back at Camp Chinqueka, Ebner Martin is surrounded by a group of 11 and 12 year olds who are heading into the woods to pitch tents.

EBNER MARTIN: I think because of today's technology, whether it's the cell phones or the I.M. or whatever, I think there's a whole, big issue with separation anxiety. And it's more the parents than the kids.

ORSON: Parents send kids to camp for shorter sessions and call more often to check in, says Ebner Martin. Online photo galleries give worried adults the assurance that their kids are safe. And new networking sites, like CampAlumni.com, give kids a place to reunite online. After the teary eyed end- of-camp goodbyes, campers can go home, get back on to their computers and stay connected all year long.

Unidentified Woman: Completely. All of the time, we're sad. We talked about this to all our friends in the school. And they're just, like, oh my god.

ORSON: For NPR News, I'm Diane Orson in Connecticut.

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