Camping Liberates Kids and Parents
Parents who wait with their kids at the bus stop, cheer every soccer game, and can’t imagine a child walking home alone from a play date two blocks away go through some kind of looking glass/time warp/brain transplant when they pull into a campground. “Bye, kids! Be back in time for dinner. Don’t feed the bears!”
What is it about camping that turns 21st century worriers into parents with positively Spielbergian nonchalance?
“At campgrounds, everyone just seems to expect to see kids roaming around,” says Lindsay Smith-Munoz, a scientist in Edmonton, Canada. “Maybe it’s just that there’s no one for the do-gooders to call? Social services isn’t going to drive two hours out of the city because some kids were spotted at a camp playground unsupervised.”
Polly Karr, a Cleveland mother of three, has watched snowplow parents melt into ’80s moms and dads over the course of a single afternoon. “A few years ago we organized a camping trip with lots of families from our different friend groups,” Karr says. “They were all clutching onto their children when they first arrived.”
Karr urged them to let go a little, and demonstrated by releasing her own kids into the wild. At first the other parents would let their children go “like 20 feet,” she says. But once they “had an hour without someone clamoring for a snack,” it clicked: Their kids were having more fun without them, and vice versa.
Many families take to camping “because that’s the kind of childhood we want for our kids, a
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