Would You Force Your Child to Go to a Sleepaway Camp?

Updated on December 09, 2014
B.H. asks from Paterson, NJ
31 answers

I'm specifically talking about sleepaway / overnight camp.

On babycenter blog Laurie Gelman wrote a story how she forced her now 13 year old to go to camp a few years ago. Here is the article.
Camp was never an option for me when I was growing up in Canada. As early as I can remember I was shipped off to my grandparents’ cottage from the last day of school until Labor Day. I spent the lazy days of summer with two old people, a row boat and a big river. And I felt lucky.

Since moving to the U.S and having kids, I have learned that summer camp is a BIG DEAL. Kids from all over the country converge on Maine or Oregon or wherever for eight weeks of organized fun in the sun. They forge friendships that last a lifetime and make memories they talk about for years. To me it sounds amazing. My God, who wouldn’t want to go to camp?

Uh, the Gelman girls, that’s who.

A few years ago we sent Jamie, now 13, to sleep away camp for three weeks against her will. We were certain once she got there she would love love love it and forget all about not wanting to go. This will go down as one of our epic fails in parenting. She hated camp, missed us terribly and to this day says it is the most traumatic thing that ever happened to her.

Nothing dangerous or untoward went on – she was just homesick. Since then she refuses to even go to day camp, doesn’t do sleepovers and has told us she plans to go to online college so she can live at home with us. Needless to say, our second daughter took one look at all that fuss and unilaterally refuses to even try camp.

When I look back, I can see the mistakes we made. Although Jamie went to camp with three friends from school, and at one point had mentioned that she might want to go, we should have seen she wasn’t ready. Pushing her out of the nest too soon resulted in her falling straight to the ground, and now she’s afraid to fly.

So, for my girls, it’s camp Gelman all summer long. Not quite as exciting, but they seem to like it.

Do you send your kids to camp?

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answers from Wausau on

My kids have gone to sleepaway camp, when it was their desire to go. It was only for a week though, not all summer.

I would never force a kid to go, nor would I refuse to let them based on my own fears.

I don't actually know anyone who has ever gone to an 8 week summer camp as a child. To me, that seems like something uninvolved and disinterested parent would do to get a kid out from underfoot.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

My kids have gone to summer camp for 3 weeks each summer since they were 8 years old. They have loved it! However, if they didn't want to go, I wouldn't have made them. I have better uses for $3000 (because that's what a good, 3-week camp costs these days) than to waste it on sending a kid to camp who doesn't want to go!

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answers from San Francisco on

Look, all of us parents do things that we realize in hindsight were mistakes. And those mistakes vary depending on the personality of the child.

All kids are different. The kids in this article are unusually timid, in my opinion. Most kids adjust to camp and end up loving it. The mother should have started with a one week camp, vs. a three week camp.

So yes, I would "force" my kids to go to camp. I "forced" my kids to try many things -- some were successful, some not so much. My kids have grown up to be pretty fearless. I believe in the idea of trying everything (most things) once.

ETA re Dana's response -- that kid lost her cousin at camp? No wonder she was scared. Different scenario, entirely.

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answers from Washington DC on

While I wasn't forced I certainly wasn't given a choice about going to sleep away camp. I went for a week in the summer from age 7-15 and worked there from age 16-18. I liked it for the most part but I would have preferred to stay home with my friends.

My girls are much to young for a sleep away camp right now but in a few years I think they will go. We will try and find one that fits their interests so it can be their idea to go.

However if my 13 year old wasn't showing signs of independence we would likely be taking her to a therapist and forcing her to have some independence. At 13 I came home from school and was often alone for a few hours and on some saturdays I wouldn't see my parents from sun up to sun down.

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answers from Grand Forks on

I have been sending my kids to sleepaway camp for a week at a time since they were eight years old. Fortunately I have never had to "force" them to go. Camp is fun. Who wouldn't want to go? My kids have also been going for sleepovers since they were five years old. I went to camp as a kid and loved it too.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

Mom mistook what sounded terrific to HER with what would be terrific for her child. Makes one wonder how well she really knew her own kid if she couldn't read the cues that the girl's resistance was real, and not just a little self-doubt, or a normal concern about a new situation, or a desire to stay home and hang out. Turns out they weren't so "certain" after all about what would work for Jamie.

I would never send my kid to a sleep-away camp against her will. What would be the point? To force her to work through her fear and somehow be stronger at the end? Sounds great to say like that but as Gelman found out, it can also backfire badly.

Sleep-away camp is fine if kids like it but adults shouldn't assume that because they had a great experience at camp when they were kids, their own kids should love it too. I know kids who love it and others who don't (and I"m a Girl Scout leader and GS camp staffer, but at a day camp.)

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answers from Beaumont on

Yes, mine go to camp. BUT, they have the option to do most any summer program they'd like and they pick the overnight ones.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Norfolk on

Our son went to day camp and he was fine with it.
The opportunity to do away camp just never came up.
When I was growing up my sister and I did 1 week of away camp for 3 years in a row - the summers after grades 4, 5 and 6.
The camp was not far from home (just one town over) - we had a blast.
We made friends each time and didn't know anybody before going.
My sister and I were in different cabins/tents (different age groups).
I even broke my arm one time and still didn't want to leave - they (the camp and my Mom) let me continue with a cast on my arm as long as I took it easy.
No one had to force us - it was a grand adventure.

To reboot her sense of adventure - why not plan a family camping trip?

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answers from Columbia on

Yes, our kids go to a couple of different camps during the Summer. They're each a week long. They love them.

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answers from Dallas on

I did not get through the entirety of the post .

Bottom line... No I would not force my child to go to a sleep away camp.

Now my soon to be 20yr old did go on week long camps of her choice but if she ever asked to not go or not inquire about a camp I would end it there.

We always left that decision up to her and we supported her either way.

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answers from Pittsburgh on

I will selfishly not send my son to sleep away camp (well maybe 2 weeks if he really really really wants to - DH used to go for the summer when he was a kid). I am not willing to give up the time we spend together.

As for the blogger referenced. That 13 year old girl lost her first cousin 3 years ago at camp. He died in a rafting accident at sleep away camp. She might have some more issues than the usual with going away to camp.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Baton Rouge on

I would not force my child to go away overnight against her will. I see no logic to the "You're going to have fun whether you like it or not" mindset.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Jacksonville on

Well, let me start by saying that the author's misconception that summer camp is something that all American kids do as a rite of passage (and for the WHOLE SUMMER??!!) is just that... a misconception.

No, I wouldn't force my child to go to an overnight camp. Nor would I force them to do a lot of things they aren't ready for that are fun choices. I never would force a child to ride a roller coaster, either, geez.

Have my kids been to an overnight camp? Yes. Was it for 8 weeks? NO! I would never give up that much time with my children during their formative years like that, I don't think.

They do go for one week every summer to a camp 7 hours from home. And they do love it, and they do talk about it every year until it is time to go again. And they do have amazing memories and have forged friendships there.

There is a certain amount of growth that can happen (and is healthy) when kids do things like this. They gain a certain bit of maturity being away from mom and dad and having expectations they must live up to. And they surprise themselves sometimes, too.

But force them to go? Nope.

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answers from Washington DC on

I wouldn't have forced her to go. Strongly encourage, yes, but if it wasn't right for her, it's a waste of our time and money.

We did not have my stepkids in the summer during traditional camp time. When it came to send them to college, we strongly encouraged my SS to live on campus, which he did, at a fairly local school. He is a homebody. He returned to our home after graduation for a bit. We sent them to Outdoor Ed, a few nights away through the school program, but no other camp. My SD has historically been the one ready to leave as soon as we opened the doors (she now lives in an apartment near school, and we kind of don't expect her to boomerang).

My sister did go to a week-long camp for a few summers. I did not. I had no interest. When sis said she was not interested, Mom said that was fine. I think that you need to consider your child and your goals for that child. If day camp is actually more beneficial, then do that instead. I think my DD will likely be a day camper and for me it's not so much making her fly as giving her experiences with the security she currently needs. I also think that forcing a child to be away for 3 weeks was overkill. One week to test it out would have been much better.

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answers from Atlanta on

No, I would not force my child to go to anything like this. I would try to convince them if I thought it was good for them.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Oklahoma City on

One of my friends had a daughter they were afraid she'd never make the break.

She was in young women's and they have overnight camp, the younger girls go for a couple of days then as they get older (Seniors) they stay up to 5 days. It's usually not too far from home and it's with girls and leaders they've known all their lives.

She routinely sent her daughter off to camp and she'd have to go in the middle of the night and get her daughter over and over due to extreme crying and hysteria.

She tried really hard to do it but wasn't able to ever do it. When her mom got cancer she was nearly an adult and mom had to go away for treatment and it was out of state. She didn't do well then either, truly who would though...right?

Anyway. She had to do local Jr. College and live at home and still had issues going away from home until she married.

I think trying to do the overnights is a good thing. If mom had just not answered the phone during those nights and left her there I think she might have gotten over this sooner but she did eventually even without it.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

i never did send my kids to camp, but they did have lots of getaways and adventures with friends.
i would never have sent them to a sleepaway camp against their wills, but we had no problem sending them off on trips with friends when we could afford it. during the homeschool years there was an annual beach trip that a bunch of us did together. i still miss that shivery early-spring week (that's when the prices are do-able) in spite of the shared bathroom!
my kids DID have to go day 'camp' during the summers when my dh and i both worked. they didn't love it, but that's not really the same thing, is it?

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Boston on

I did and loved it but was never forced! I was the one asking my mom to go, I was never pushed to go. I have memories of going for 2 weeks and calling my mom to trying to get her to sign me up for more. My son is like me, he wants to do everything and I know he would be thrilled to go to summer camp but I know I won't want to send him for more than a week...I'd miss him too much.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Santa Fe on

Oh geez...I just reread that it was an article you read...I need more coffee this morning. I am a US citizen and where I grew up kids did not go away to camp...so it might be a tradition in some part of the US - I have heard the east coast - but not all. I have heard of sleep away camps that last a week...lots of our friends kids have tried this and enjoyed it. I would like our son to do it (age 10) because I think if he went with his best friend he would ease into it and have a blast. I am not sure if he would want to though. I would not make him because I would not want to waste the money if he is determined not to enjoy himself. Her daughter sounds very dramatic (like my son!). I think the daughter in the article is focusing way too much on the negative. Her parents should draw out what were the things she DID enjoy. We went to our grandparent's house in another state for a month every summer, and while I missed my mom, I always enjoyed the beach, swimming, etc.

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answers from New York on

My kids went to daycamp every summer, no option. Sleepaway camp (Scout camp, 4H camp) wasn't til they were 10 or 11 and they wanted to go. Would probably have been happier to go sooner but it's just so expensive!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Denver on

Clearly, this lady realized that forcing her daughter to go was not a good idea. It does sounds like her daughter, being 13 is a little dramatic and I feel like there are other components to her behavior. Overall though, I would not force this on my daughter and would hopefully have a better understanding of my childs personality and work our way to a camp, i.e. daycamp first, then a short overnight camp, ecetera. I find this blog to have a few holes though. Seems like they should be dealing with some serious separation anxiety with not even wanting day camp.

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answers from Seattle on

#1 - I went to a few overnight camps (week long) as a kid and I HATED it. There was not adequate supervision, kids were going off doing God knows what (at CHRISTIAN camps!), I didn't get along with a lot of the kids, there were bullies, I didn't like it at all.
#2 - My kids have never asked to go.
#3 - I don't want to send them. I love the summers with them, hanging out at the pool, going to the lake, camping as a family, soccer tournaments.

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answers from Boston on

Yes, I sent mine to overnight camp, but he wanted to go. He did not go with any friends, but it was a camp well known to our synagogue and supported/endorsed by the rabbis and the youth leaders. So there was a certain level of comfort. It was a fabulous experience and her went for 5 summers (half summers - 4 weeks because we also took a family vacation and he hung out with kids around here too).

No, I would never force him against his will.

I think there are many, many ways to expand a child's world and awareness. I think there is great benefit to having them "stretch" beyond what's comfortable and meet new kids. I think some kids can go away alone, some can go away with current friends (although this has pitfalls), and some can't go at all.

Camp has tons of benefits - independence, self-sufficiency, eating the food that's put out vs. kvetching about it all the time, cooperative efforts in cleaning/organizing the bunk, trying new sports and activities without having to sign up for an 8 week session like at home, and meeting kids from other parts of the country or world. But there are ways to give kids at home a lot of those experiences.

Encouraging a kid who is a little nervous is one thing - and a good open house and orientation program is really important. But pushing a kid who is just not ready developmentally or just not suited in personality to 4 or 8 weeks away, no way.

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answers from Grand Rapids on

I would never force my son to go to sleep away camp. My son had a great time at camp. He was 9 the first time but it was only for a portion of a week. Then he went for a full week when he was 12 and 14. All three times, he had a least one friend on the same week. One summer, I was a camp counselor, during college. It makes me sad that this blogger's daughter didn't have the option to go home. During the summer, I had one girl that I sent home. I think she was 9 maybe 10 and she was so homesick. The first night, she was miserable, so homesick. The whole next day and into the night, she wouldn't participate even with friends. I called her parents said to come get her. I did not want her to be scarred for life. It makes me feel better today sending her home after stories like this:)

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answers from Chicago on

My kids went to camp in bath Ohio. Camp Christopher. They loved it. They went for 2 weeks at a time as it was to far too drive 2weekends in a row. My youngest went for 2weeks each summer from age 10 to age 16. And was sad he couldn't go again. He's 19 now. In college and working. He misses the lazy summer fun.

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answers from San Diego on

I would never force them to go to overnight camp if they did not want to go. In the been there, done that, I was forced a couple of times and I resented my parents for forcing me and I hated every moment of being there. It truly is not the type of thing I enjoy doing. I never really cared for the family camping trips even. I am not a camping type, even in a cabin unless it's a full amenities type deal. I like to go for a few hours to some nice park or something to sight see, hike etc. Enjoy a lunch and fun. But put me back in a bed at home or a private hotel with a daily shower when the day is over thank you very much.
My kids have not expressed any interest in camping and I do not push it. We have a couple activities we do where they could potentially spend the night but they prefer to come home each night and go back in the morning.

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answers from Las Vegas on

No, I don't. However, have seen some interesting overnight camps that she might enjoy, but keep it quiet because I am not ready.

Maybe I can entertain the idea, now that I read this post.

I am a little on the cautious side. I was learning to let go a bit, until an unfortunate comment was made to me about watching her play her sport. Now, I am stuck telling her to pretend I am not there, but I will be right by your side.

Maybe I can let go a bit again and perhaps consider a girls overnight hockey camp. Maybe.



answers from Chicago on

I suffered from terrible home sickness. In high school, I spent a lot of nights at a friends house. She would have to talk me to sleep. I just couldn't settle, I just hated not being home.

I must have been in 4 or 5 grade when they had a sleep over at a local forest preserve. I hated it. I dreaded it, I made myself sick. I did the same during girls scout camp in the summer, and we only had to sleep over 1 night.

I have no clue if my kids will go away to camp. If they want to, sure, If they don't, fine. But my brother and I didn't go away to camp. summer was about being lazy at the public pool.



answers from New York on

Yes, the cousin did die at camp. Here is the link.

To answer, I would never force them to go to camp against their will. My 6 year old son goes to YMCA day camp and loves it.


answers from Chicago on

No, I would never force my children to go to camp. My oldest won't even do sleepovers, and like the girl in the article plans to go to college locally so she can live at home. God help me!



answers from Los Angeles on

No. Of all of the parents & kids I know--I don't know anyone that goes to sleep away camp or any weekly/summer camp. Day vamps during the summer-yes.
So not an issue here.

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