Bad Parents Can't Cope with Sleep-Away Camp

For a certain kind of mommy and daddy-the kind you would see in a New York Times weekend feature-merely sending their precious little dumplings to some of the poshest, coddling-est summer camps in the nation isn't enough. They also supply their whimsically special bunnies with contraband cellphones and drive camp administrators insane by constantly demanding even special-er treatment for their holy spawn. "Their parents, meanwhile, were bombarding the camp with calls: one wanted help arranging private guitar lessons for her daughter, another did not like the sound of her child's voice during a recent conversation, and a third needed to know - preferably today - which of her daughter's four varieties of vitamins had run out. All before lunch."

Answering these and other urgent queries was Karin Miller, 43, a stay-at-home mother during the school year with a doctorate in psychology, who is redefining the role of camp counselor. She counsels parents, spending her days from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. printing out reams of e-mail messages to deliver to Bryn Mawr's 372 female campers and leaving voice mail messages for their parents that always begin, "Nothing's wrong, I'm just returning your call."



Jill Tipograph, a camp consultant, said most high-end sleep-away camps in the Northeast now employ full-time parent liaisons like Ms. Miller, who earns $6,000 plus a waiver of the camp's $10,000 tuition for each of her two daughters. Ms. Tipograph describes the job as "almost like a hotel concierge listening to a client's needs."



The liaisons are emblematic of what sleep-away camp experts say is an increasing emphasis on catering to increasingly high-maintenance parents, including those who make unsolicited bunk placement requests, flagrantly flout a camp's ban on cellphones and junk food, and consider summer an ideal time to give their offspring a secret vacation from Ritalin.



One camp psychologist said she used to spend half her time on parental issues; now it's 80 percent. Dan Kagan, co-director of Bryn Mawr, has started visiting every new family's home in the spring and calling those parents on the first or second day of camp to reassure them.



And while the camp schedule once was sacrosanct, parents are now pulling kids out to act in commercials, compete in gymnastics meets or fill choice seats at baseball's All-Star Game. [NYT]

When I was a lad, camp meant eating partially frozen slop, drinking "Bug Juice," forced Synagogue on Saturdays, and praying that the old caretaker who'd supposedly hacked up his family before disappearing in a fire didn't come to get you at night!