Communicating with Parents: Finding the Right Balance
For many families, summer camp marks a time of transition. Kids who have never lived away from their parents for longer than a night or two must now prepare to spend a week, a month or more in a new environment. Parents too must adjust as they allow their children to solve their own problems and become self-sufficient.
As a camp director, you can make these transitions easier for everyone by establishing clear communication procedures among the staff, campers and families.
Before the summer draws near, you and your team should decide how often you want to bring parents up-to-date. Consider such factors as the duration of each camp session and the average age of the kids. A six-week program might warrant frequent communication, such as daily blog posts and a weekly newsletter, whereas a seven-day camp might need only one midweek email. Parents of younger children often have more questions and concerns than parents of teenagers, so frequent communication in these instances can ease worries and help the camp run more smoothly.
The type of program should likewise affect how often you need to communicate with parents. At a day camp, for instance, parents tend to remain involved in the routine affairs of the camp, so staff members can send flyers home when needed or have quick, informal conversations at pick-up time. At an overnight camp, however, counselors provide the primary supervision, so they might tell parents only the most important news. Camps that revolve around high-risk activities, like international travel or wilderness survival, can reassure parents with regular updates.
Developing different methods of communication also improves interrelations. Photos, videos and status updates on various social media are a great way to appease parents’ curiosity about their child’s activities. An official camp blog can go into more detail, relate interesting anecdotes and present highlights of the week. An innovative leader could even commission someone to create an app so that parents can access alerts, weather updates and news from camp on their smartphones and tablets.
Before camp begins, explain to parents the various ways that they can stay in touch. Parents should know where to find basic information, whether to call or email if they have a quick question, and who to contact in an emergency. Large camps might consider hiring a special liaison to bridge the gap between staff and parents and to deal with issues as they arise. An employee who handles promotional materials for the camp could potentially serve as social media guru during the summer session.
As you and your team work out the details of communication at camp, understand the benefits and pitfalls of constant updates. Many concerned parents want to receive continual reports about the wellbeing of their children. However, too much contact between parents and campers can interrupt camp activities and keep young minds focused on home, not on making new memories and friends.
On the other hand, these parents who are paying to give their son or daughter a great experience naturally want to know if the kids are having fun, and keeping the lines of communication open can prove vital in the event of an emergency.
Ultimately, what you do or do not share during the camp season depends on your particular program and the families involved, but you can follow several good guidelines. A perennial concern is safety; parents want to know if their child is receiving his or her medication and if the sports teams use proper equipment. Reassure parents before camp even begins by keeping all files well-organized and explaining the safety measures in place.
Consider how a photo might appear to an anxious mom or dad before posting it online. The image of a frowning child or a high rope swing might prompt unnecessary phone calls.
From the beginning, give parents a clear idea about how much information they should expect to see, such as the number of pictures posted each week or the length of the newsletter. A set plan creates a sense of security.
Striking the right balance between communicating too much and too little will keep everyone feeling satisfied and secure.