9 Things Summer Camp Counselors Wish Parents Understood About Our Jobs — Because The Kids Aren't The Problem


I've worked as a summer camp counselor for a long time now, and like most people with my job, I'm definitely overqualified. But I love it. Sure, it’s not all delicious s’mores and canoeing and friendship bracelet-making, but there’s something really great about heading out into the woods every June and not looking back at civilization until September.

No, it's not the kids who make my summer job harder — it's usually their parents. We try to make everyone’s camp experience fun and easy, but there's always a few parents who seemingly set out to make it harder for us.

Somehow, every year, there are parents who apparently have no idea what a summer camp actually is. We’ll get calls about the amount of bug bites a kid has, or a little sunburn. But did that parent send their kid with any sunscreen or bug spray? Nope! Or a small cut that requires a Band-Aid turns into a huge production. Well, who sent their child to run around the woods with only flip flops to wear? Certainly not their counselor!

It’s these kinds of shenanigans that make camp counselors want to retreat into the woods and never come out. At least if we're hiding in the woods, there won’t be any ringing telephones with parents on the other end. Though they’d probably figure out a way to find us and complain anyway.

Here are nine things camp counselors wish kids' parents would understand about our job.

1. We wouldn't be doing this job unless we loved working with kids.

No one is going to voluntarily get paid so little over a summer unless they love hanging out with little Johnny and Susie as much as you do. For the love of all that is holy, please chill. Yes, we understand they're your pride and joy. We actually really like kids too, and we're pretty good with them. That's why we're doing this job. So please calm down and don't second guess our every move. It just makes us nervous.

2. Please don't make your kids' separation anxiety worse.

Don't make it worse by crying at the bus stop with them. Stop, drop, and roll out of there, because it gets super awkward when we have to deal with your separation anxiety as well as theirs. The best thing you can do for your little one is to give them a hug and a kiss and disappear. The most effective rule of thumb I've seen is if mom and dad don't cry, the kids don't either. The first day of camp is stressful for everyone, so don't make it harder on us.

3. Your child is not a valid form of communication.

For your own child's sake, do not send money, information, or medical notes with him/her unless your staple it to their forehead and tuck several backup copies in various places on their body. (Oh, Timmy has a deathly peanut allergy? That would have been great information to know before he joined the cooking session!)

Give us all the information we need firsthand from you, and then leave the care and keeping to us. We're not going to take anything your kid says as the full gospel truth because really, taking advice from someone who still eats their boogers is risky business.

Which leads me to...

4. We take food allergies seriously — so don't say anything you don't mean.

We had a parent last year who told us her child was deathly allergic to eggs, so we planned everything in the camp around her allergy. Other groups couldn't hold egg races on the field because if they broke and she came into contact with it, we’d be liable. But guess who was caught mid-week eating an egg in a lunch her mom had packed for her? I actually banged my head against a tree in frustration when I heard that one.

5. Don't treat us like we're stupid.

In fact, the higher you go on the camp food chain, the more likely you are to find serious and certified child care professionals. We know what we're doing.

Last year, I was working as a program manager (the level above a counselor) and I was the only face many parents ever got to meet. Yes, I was in unflattering shorts every day, and usually had some sort of contraption on my head, but at that point, I'd had over 10 years of child care experience and held numerous certifications.

I know I look like I'm 16 and I act like I'm eight when I'm with your kids, but I'm a professional, dang it!

6. Remember that mistakes happen.

We're 30-50 people trying to care for a group of 200-400 screaming children all day. If your kid accidentally gets placed in the Red Group instead of in the Blue Group, calm yourself. We'll fix it. There's no need to call us, screaming.

If it's something serious, please believe we will mobilize like the freaking Avengers to keep your kids safe. But threatening and screaming at us about the little things is the equivalent of crying wolf: It makes us care less when it's actually something important.

7. There is going to be dirt. A LOT of it.

Your child will be returned to you very, very dirty. They will come home with twigs and leaves in weird places. They will need to take several showers until the water runs clear. If you didn't already know, Summer Camp usually takes place outdoors. Your child will be expected to interact with their environment. There are animals. There is dirt. There are many, many bugs. If you or your child cannot handle any of these things, I suggest buying them a bubble to live in, because camp is not for the likes of them.

8. Your child's bus monitor is a saint.

They spend all day with hundreds of kids, and then get paid incrementally more to spend another hour where they're the only adult on the bus and have to entertain another 50. More gratitude and less attitude for the Band-Aid on your kid's knee, please. One parent last summer gave me a $10 Starbucks card as a goodbye gift on my last ride with his kid and I almost cried. And I liked that kid.

9. We seriously love our job.

Of course there's drama and ticks and the occasional human bite mark, but there's also little hugs every morning and macaroni pictures and impromptu fashion shows with a bucket on my head. At no other job would I ever get to run around in a pink tutu and fairy wings. Basically, we wouldn't come back year after year unless we adored it, bites and all.

Please just let us do our jobs. We promise we'll give your kids back — mostly — in one piece. And if they come back a little bit different, well ... it's camp. Camp is supposed to change your life.Images: Penn State/Flickr; Giphy (7)