Excited, relieved, anxious ... whatever you may be feeling as you send your child off to camp this summer, most parents would agree that their kids’ health is at the top of their priority list. And while camp directors and staff members are already taking measures to make sure the experience is a safe and happy one, there are still plenty of things parents need to be aware of.
Health experts say some common concerns include sunscreen application, hydration and preventing the spread of germs among campers. Equally important is the psychological health of kids, which can crop up in the form of homesickness and bullying.
Dr. Edward Walton, director of emergency pediatric medicine at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Mich.,says parents should check to see if a camp is accredited by the American Camp Association (ACA), which is a key sign that those camps – more than 2,400 in the U.S. — are committed to the a child’s overall well-being.
“That’s a camp that has gone the extra mile,” Walton told FoxNews.com.
This extra effort comes in the form of more than 300 health and safety guidelines, which ACA accredited camp personnel are required to follow, according to its CEO, Peg Smith.The ACA advises camp directors on health practices from germ prevention and sun protection to the safety guidelines of activities like rope courses, swimming and boating. This monitoring is in place to ensure that the proper safety gear is being used for these activities and that the staff members teaching these activities are certified and trained in these areas, Smith said.
“We also ask that the camps are training their counselors to continuously be screening the campers for any observable evidence of illness or injury or communicable diseases, fevers, etc.,” she said.
Parents should be especially diligent if their child is taking medication, Walton said, and collaborate with their child’s pediatrician and the camp medical staff in order to create a medication plan.
Walton, a former camp doctor, said he has seen many cases where children are on medication for a condition like ADHD during the school year, but then their parents take them off the medication for the summer – a plan that often proves ineffective for both the children and camp staff.
“Camp can be a very socially intense experience and kids need to be able to pay attention,” Walton said.
Dr. Christopher Thurber, the creator of ExpertOnlineTraining.com – a website that provides training videos to more than 500 camps across the world on a variety of topics — echoed Walton’s advice and said a big part of a healthy camp experience involves parents and camp staff being on the same page.
“The more the camp nurses and doctors (and) the more the camp staff understands about current treatment, the better able they are to support that child in the new environment,” Thurber said.
But physical wellness isn’t the only concern when it comes to campers’ health. About 95 percent of kids who go away to camp for the first time experience homesickness, according to Walton.
To combat these feelings, Walton suggested that parents have their kids go on sleepovers to practice being away from home. And even though you may want to tell your kids you’ll pick them up if they want to come home, Walton said this is not a good idea.
“What that does is it tells the kids we’re so sure you’re going to fail, we’re going to set up an out for you when you do,” he said.
But even homesickness is part of the maturation process that allows children to become more “independent and resilient,” Smith said, and is “a very positive part of development.”
Another concern at camp is bullying. Thurber said it’s important for counselors to create a camp environment in which the children are “upstanders rather than bystanders,” which makes the bullying more likely to dissipate.
So whatever reservations you have about sending your child away to camp – be comforted by this: ACA research has shown that camp is sure to be a transformative experience for children, Thurber says.
“We discovered that, as we had suspected, this is an experience that accelerates kids’ development faster than other experiences,” he said. “So they grow in independence and self esteem and physical and thinking skills and sense of adventure (and) willingness to try new things faster at camp than they do in other environments.”