David Anderegg

David Anderegg Ph.D.

Young Americans

Kid-sick? Really?

Your kid's at camp. You can't stop crying. You're..kid-sick?

Posted Jul 21, 2008

The story now (as we learned last week in yet another story on the subject, this one by Martha Irvine of the Associated Press) is that parents don't celebrate when their kids go to camp. They cry all the way home. They sit by the mailbox and wait for letters. They frantically search the camp's website every day for a picture of their kid, hopefully with a smile on her face. These parents are the new standard: the "kid-sick" parents who send their kids off to camp and then pine away every day until the day they come home.

Articles like these raise questions like summer weeds. One just doesn't know where to begin. But let's begin at the beginning. If you don't want your kid to go to sleep-away camp, why send her to sleep-away camp? Why not send her to day camp? If she gets bored doing nothing all summer, why can't she go off and do something during the day and then come home at night and snuggle up in her own bed so you won't miss her so much? Does she "need" to go to sleep-away camp? Believe me, the research has not been done which demonstrates that kids who go to sleep-away camp are more likely to get into an Ivy League college (and thank God it hasn't, or sleepy little Camp No-Ko-Me-Ko-No would look like midtown Manhattan because every single middle-class family would send their kids, kid-sickness or no kid-sickness.)

This appears to be another enactment of the bigger trend, the New Parental Masochism. Kids used to be sent to sleep-away camp because parents, especially mothers who did not work, did not want to spend every summer day keeping their kids occupied. It was a luxury item for families who could afford it, and it was for one big reason: It gave the parents pleasure. It also sometimes gave the kids pleasure, but not always. But if it gives parents pleasure to keep their kids home or at day camp for the summer, is this now a crime?

Is there a reason that parental pleasure has gone belly-up as a human motivation? It does seem to have done so, but the reasons this has happened are hard to grasp. Surely some of it is peer pressure: Parents see other parents being masochistic, and think it is the way one is supposed to act. And articles like the AP story on kid-sickness help the process along by letting all readers know that crying by the mailbox is the new standard for parental devotion. You don't do what your gut tells you—like keep them home if you miss them so much. Instead, you do what everyone else does—send them away because you think it's good for them and then weep all day because....why is that again?

Next post: kid-sickness and evolutionary psychology.