Camping Liberates Kids and Parents

Something about camping seems to turn 21st century worriers into parents with positively Spielbergian nonchalance.


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, and they don't get that in real life anymore," says Jillian, a mortgage lender in Massachusetts. Last year she and her husband let their 6-year-old ride her bike around a campground by herself—something they wouldn't have dared do back home "because people in our neighborhood might look at us funny." (It is for this same reason that she didn't want her last name used.)

What explains the way campgrounds dial back the worry and dial up the independence? Probably some mix of these factors.

Unstructured time: One reason so few kids play on their own back home is that they have something else they have to do. Ballet. Kumon. Karate. At campgrounds, kids are sprung from their scheduled activities—and from their homework!

New friends: The kids don't have their usual buddies. Fun requires forging new friendships. Play is how that happens.

Mixed-age mingling: Kids who would be segregated by interest, school, or age back home become a Peanuts-like gang at the campground. Older kids assume some responsibility for the younger ones. Little kids granted this proximity to greatness don't want to lose it, so they toughen up. Karr says that when an especially helicoptering family saw their child fall off a rock and not come running to them, their whole outlook shifted.

Small spaces: At home, says Courtney Bias, a communications strategist for the industry group Go RVing, a lot of kids "have their own rooms they can escape to." Not in an R.V. The alternative to being cooped up is to get the heck out.

Outside is where the action is: The food, games, animals, nature, and fun are all out there. A kid in motion tends to stay in motion.

Fewer cars and slower speeds: parental Paxil.

Campfires: a bonding ritual old as time.

Nature: plenty interesting.

No garages: "When people come home from work, they park in their garage and enter the house," says Ann Leach, a homeschooling mom—and camper—in Australia. "There's no opportunity for even a casual encounter." Similarly, "Here in Australia every house has a 6-foot fence around the backyard and sometimes around the front too." Everyone is more visible at the campground.

And add one more factor to the list: trust. Parents who don't trust their neighbors to drive sanely or to refrain from calling 911 if they see an unsupervised kid are more likely to trust their fellow campers. Camp folks have all forsaken some creature comforts to create a community. They walk around in pajamas. They share their beer and hot dogs. They let their kids be kids.

It's sad that in the neighborhoods where we spend most of our time, we feel less at home and happy than when we're surrounded by trees and strangers. Maybe if we scheduled our kids a little less, took down some fences, and banished homework, the magic of the campground could seep into our everyday lives.

NEXT: Brickbat: Brothers in Blue

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  1. Guess who just decided to take up camping?

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    2. Guess who just got back from marshalling 30 kids through a week of camping?

      I generally disagree with Lenore about kids and cellphones, but after a week of having to answer calls from Moms (and a Dad) because, effectively, kids in sleeping bags brought the scratchy blankets to sleep under, I'm beginning to see her side.

      1. My failure at a buttplug pedo joke is noted. (Hangs head in shame)

  2. Camping is a great adventure for children. My husband and I are taking three of the grandchildren on a camping trip this week. It will be at a state park, and based upon previous experiences, the kids will soon make friends with nearby campsite children. No electronics is always a good rule because it encourages them to use their own imagination and look at the world around them.

    In all my camping experiences, I've never experienced any crime, or even rude behavior, while camping. The grandchildren love the it. All parents keep an eye on whichever children are playing near their campsite to make sure younger ones do not wander off, fall in the lake, etc. but mostly the kids are allowed to roam free.

  3. Camping is awesome and a good escape from work, schedules, etc. We do a lot of overlanding. A lot of fun, adventure, and bonding time with the fam bam.

  4. Karen don't camp!

    1. Karen goes on a cruise so she can bitch about being in close quarters with unvaccinated people

    2. Karen's camp...they're the girlfriends that tag along with your buddies, or your wife's friend comes on a camping trip and all they do is bitch about their fat necks sweating and that their fat asses not fitting into the fold up chairs.

      1. Maybe - but I suspect a lot of adults turn into Karens the nanosecond their SUV pulls into the driveway at home.

      2. They rent a gymnasium and set up tents on the basketball court. After the court has been disinfected.

  5. I've been struck by how much the Millennials 'living in a van' experience or living in an RV, now, resembles the hippie kids of the 1970s, either hitchhiking or doing the On the Road thing, which started out as inspired by what the Beats were doing and writing about. It's not just that the Millennials seem to think they invented everything. That's amusing, but it is surprising that they reinvent or discover this stuff without any reference or knowledge of the past.

    They don't know anything about Neal Cassady driving the Grateful Dead's tour bus, the Beats, . . .

    Incidentally, it's the same thing with other stuff--like their rediscovery of the suburbs. Their boomer parents and grandparents led the white flight from the cities in response to the riots and crime of the '60s and '70s, too--even while condemning the racism of their own parents and grandparents. Sometimes, when I hear a Millennial talking about CRT, it sounds just like parents from the 70s fleeing to the suburbs for white schools.

    Any moment now, the Democrats will start pushing busing, and the cycle will be complete. All of this has happened before.

    1. There is nothing new under the sun.

      They will not let you escape their agenda in the suburbs.

      CRT is the new busing.

      1. And camping is the slippery slope that lead to CRT and busing

        1. Went camping last fall with my kids and some friends whose parents are rabid progtards who hadn’t been camping since they were kids, one of the sites near ours had an RV adorned with Trump 2020 banners - the look on their face was priceless I’m sure but couldn’t see it because they were wearing masks LOL.

          1. As a general rule I try to avoid camping with friends whose parents have rabies, no matter how they festoon their vehicles.

    2. "They don’t know anything about Neal Cassady driving the Grateful Dead’s tour bus, the Beats, . ."

      I don't suppose the invading families of Central America who hop the train for the states know anything about Woody Guthrie, either. Bound for glory, perhaps, but trains are even more communist than buses.

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      1. In my experience, things like that cost extra.

  7. "Spielbergian nonchalance" for the win.

  8. Kirkland will be by to yammer about bitter roots, clinging vines, and bears maybe. I forget his whole schtick but that sounds mostly right.

  9. Took a midweek overnight camping trip last week with the pooch in a nearby spot up from a lake and it was transforming. Even just one night in the VW camper van curled up on the back seat -- didn't bother to pop the top or cook, just brought a small salad -- and the pressures from this past couple of months just seemed to vaporize.

    1. You're a little old to vape, no?

  10. In related news, I've been running into memes saying campfires are destroying the environment and the gub'ment needs to permanently ban campfires. I am not making this up. My hope is it's just a few mushheads and it won't catch on. But I hoped the same thing about straws and look what happened.

    Puritanism: The sneaking suspicion that somewhere someone might be having some fun.

    p.s. Campfires burn wood. That wood already exists. Typically as fallen wood. That wood will either be decay, releasing CO2, or it will get burned by forest fire, releasing CO2, or collected by a hippie and made into cheesy driftwood macrame art, releaseing CO2 in the future when it finally gets hauled off to the dump. Meaning campfires do NOT contribute to increased levels of CO2 in the atmosphere. Burning wood is a literally carbon neutral.

    p.p.s. Posting memes however, does emit carbon, as electricity is not free but comes from generators that are often powered by fossil fuels, nto to mention the rare earths that go into batteries, the mining involved, etc. Plus your damned iPhone was made in China who is all gung ho on coal plants right now. You want to be carbon friendly, the start sequestering iPhones in deep abandoned mines.

    1. "p.s. Campfires burn wood. "

      I recommend a Mountain Safety Research stove. It burns gas and will cook food in a tent or inclement weather. It's light, takes little space, almost pocket sized, and easy to use. I've seen solar cookers in Tibet, where there is concern over the use of yak dung as fuel, but these solar cookers are large and ungainly, not designed with portability in mind.

    2. "I’ve been running into memes saying campfires are destroying the environment and the gub’ment needs to permanently ban campfires. I am not making this up."

      Yeah, I'd hate to see campfires banned. But I'd love to see them restricted to a few hours in the evening. Nothing worse than being in a campground with a few bozos who keep their fire burning every waking hour and cover the whole place in a smoky haze. Nonstop smoke inhalation ain't healthy. I don't know how anybody with asthma could do campground camping at all.

      1. Second hand campfire

      2. If you burn green wood, CO2 is the least of your worries.

        1. I'm not worried about CO2 in this case -- just noxious gases and fine particulates. Getting outdoors shouldn't mean living with the air-quality of 19th-century London.

          1. I understand your concern. A campfire, thanks to these noxious fumes however, can do a lot to suppress mosquitoes. On a related note, I learned a neat trick in Himachal Pradesh, India. It only works indoors, or maybe a tent: before retiring for the night, burn a stick or two of incense in your sealed bed chamber. Best not to be there while you are doing this. When you return, open the door for a minute or so and the mosquitoes will make a bee line for the exit, leaving you to spend the night in peaceful, pleasantly scented slumber.

            1. And if you suck a few black cocks before turning in, like you talked about yesterday, not only can you sleep mosquito-free but also knowing that you clearly are obviously not racist.

              1. The mosquitoes don't take well to the smell of incense. That's why they escape the room when given the chance. I don't know why but it seems to be true and might work in a tent while camping. Sucking cocks (or hens even) of any color is not relevant, though you are welcome to give it a whirl, and tell us about it after in an interesting comment.

                1. If you are looking for comparison to your cock sucking experiences and for the extent it proves you aren’t racist as a result of such activity you’ll have to talk with Tony.

                  1. " and for the extent it proves you aren’t racist as a result of such activity you’ll have to talk with Tony."

                    You are the one who is evidently interested in the subject, so I'll take it up with you. We can leave Tony and others out of this if you want. I think you are misconstruing the joke. It's a joke with a grain of truth to it: We're all probably at least a bit more racist than we think we are. Godard's original quote was satirical, and that's what he was satirizing. It doesn't prove that I'm not a racist. If anything it proves the opposite. I understand you didn't get that, shocked as you were by the image of a sucked black cock, but Godard was a hardcore Maoist (anti colonialism, PLO etc.) at the time, you need an informed communist perspective to get it probably.

                    By the way, getting back to camping, and Tony and others are welcome to chip in, did I even tell you the sure fire way to escape Polar Bear attack? If you are not too far from a safe place like a cabin, the bear will still outrun you. Your only chance is to while running to the safe place, remove an item of clothing and drop it. The curious bear will invariably pause for a sniff and whatever else polar bears do when they come across something strange in pursuit of prey. Repeat with the next item of clothing and so on until safely at home.

                    1. Tony should be along anytime. Enjoy.

                    2. What the he'll is wrong with you two? Do you even live in the real world?

                    3. did I even tell you the sure fire way to escape Polar Bear attack?

                      The way to escape a polar bear attack is the same way you escape a nuclear weapons attack: Don't be there when it hits.

                      As Redd Foxx observed: "If you don't want to be eaten, don't go where someone will eat you!"

                      I love "The Great Outdoors," but it ain't that damn great as to risk being eaten!

                      On that note, if you are out in what Davy Crockett called "bar" territory, or even in the city (bears invade there too,) keep your garbage can locked until pick up day and keep your food secure. In the woods, pully it up by rope on a big tree branch and keep it out of the reach of woodland forest creatures. Also, line the perimeter of your camp site with bear and vermin repellant and keep a 12 Gauge Shotgun with small pellet shot if all else fails.

                      The libertarian Utopians of Grafton, NH didn't think anything could go wrong and got their Paradise invaded by bears. Don't be those idiots! Life, Liberty, Property, and Pursuit of Happiness are worth preserving!

  11. How could you list all the "reasons" parents relax and let their kids be kids at campgrounds, and not list the #1 psychological reason: NO PEDOS. With very few other humans around, and those humans being campers themselves (and thus obviously kind and benign), the risk of pedos/kidnapping/killing is reduced to almost zero. It was almost zero in the city, too, but with a lot of other houses and unknown humans around, helicopter parents don't feel that way. NO PEDOS.

    1. Yeah. Because nothing like that ever happens in sparsely populated, rural areas.

    2. I dunno -- now that you mention it, doesn't a campground seem like the *perfect* setup for a pedo? Nobody knows anybody, lots of unsupervised kids running around -- what more could a pedo want? I think camping may be way too risky for the 'Think It Through' family.

    3. Meanwhile, the actual mathematical risks faced by kids are much higher while camping: falls, bears, wolves, coyotes, cougars, rattlesnakes, rivers, no cell phone service and no readily available medical care.

      1. Not mention giardia in the water, chipmunks with bubonic plague, and ticks with Lyme disease.

        I like camping too, but don't pretend it's safer than sending your kid to the corner grocery store to pick up a two liter bottle of pop by himself.

        1. All of this is why, when going outdoors, it helps to carry both the knowledge and the the means of providing for one's survival away from civilization, especially the knowledge of how primitive peoples of the past provided for their survival needs.

          Learn how to build a fire without matches, how to filter water with sand, pebbles, and charcoal, how to make a lean-to shelter from the elements with branches and leaf debris; how to identify and forage for wild plants, nuts, and berries; how to make tools and weapons from items in nature; how to set fish, bird, and animal traps; which season is right for avoiding diseases like Turlaremia (Rabbit Fever;) how to skin, gut, dress, and cook wild game; how to navigate by the Sun and stars; how to signal for help with land markers, whistles, and mirrors; how to perform First Aid, The Heimlich Maneuver, and CPR, etc. ad infinitum.

          The literature and Web Sites for learning these things is boundless and amazing! Seize it and enjoy it!

      2. Dingo took my baby.

    4. Don't you remember the time when a pedo was sent into space as a punishment, and it was too late by the time horrified mission controllers discovered that he'd smuggled a child into the capsule with him. Pedos are everywhere, even in space.

    5. No Ellen DeGenitals at the campground?

    6. Sad to say, that danger exists anywhere that there is a difference in age between human beings and anywhere that adults have authority over children.

      None of this is to say that you and your little ones should stay in your coccoon and never have fun, but do exercise rational situational awareness, never get isolated totally out of reach of the helpers, "Question Authority" as the bumper sticker says, and be ready to exercise self-defense when the need arises.

  12. Nowhere does this article mention the best reason for camping. It’s really cheap. Unless you spend a lot of money on camping equipment that you will only use once and mostly don’t need. Which I bet the author of the article did. However, as anyone who has actually gone camping knows, even if it’s fun, the best part is coming home and enjoying the comforts of a good bed in a solid building, a flush toilet, and no bugs!

    1. It's really cheap if you're using a tent. Most trailers, not so much.

    2. And if you live in Cali, some of the camping gear comes in handy during the blackouts.

      1. If you live in FL, the camping gear comes in handy in the aftermath of a hurricane. I remember hearing my neighbors whine about not having coffee (I offered them some of ours, but they had too much pride), as my wife and I were drinking coffee I had made on a backpacking stove.

  13. That offers some hope for the children of helicopters. Hope it takes off more.

  14. "once they "had an hour without someone clamoring for a snack," it clicked"

    That's another thing - my parents didn't let me snack between meals and they didn't carry snacks and juiceboxes when we went on outings. If we saw a water fountain we got a drink there. I find it bizarre that parents today can't go anywhere without a bag full of snacks, drinks, toys and puzzles.

  15. Self-sufficiency and self-reliance, even if only in small and recreational doses, are powerfully corrosive to statism and government dependence.

    “What matters is that, for life to be truly fruitful, life must be felt as a joy, and that where freedom is not, there can be no joy… .” ~Albert Jay Nock

  16. I love camping and everything but if I lived in a neighborhood where people actually called 911 when my kid rides a bike alone I would sell my house and move. Really, are their places in America where this happens? If you judge me because I'm not a helicopter parent, well, fuck you.

    1. You could always call the non-emergency number right back on them and report a person is frivolously using 911 against you.

  17. Camping is really a fun, but make sure that no one is disturb because of you. And its true that some people don't saw you enjoying.

  18. lately, children spend a lot of time on their phones and a trip to a picnic or a trip to the park can be a whole event

  19. Every child is different. And the older the child gets, the more he needs personal space. Give your children the opportunity to develop and shape their society.

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