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Sleepaway camps and roving photographers


Pity, if just for a moment, the helicopter parent. Their darlings at sleepaway camp (most with rules prohibiting the kind of nonstop contact to which mom and dad have grown accustomed), they are reduced to scouring the camp’s website for newly uploaded photos in hopes of catching a glimpse of their offspring.

Eager to please not only campers but the people footing the bill, most summer camps now dispatch a photographer to stroll the campus and capture the simple, old-fashioned joy that $13,000 for a seven-week session — at the high end — can bring.

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But, as many a parent has learned and camp administrators know all too well, dozens or even hundreds of photos don’t always calm worries. Sometimes they intensify them.

“The parents spend hours looking at these pictures,” reports Abby Shapiro, the owner of CampSource , a camp-consulting firm in Newton. “And if their child doesn’t look happy, they call the camps.”

Among the issues: “He looks plump. What are you feeding him?” “Why is she standing alone?” “It’s raining — why isn’t he wearing the coat I sent?” “What’s that bandage on her knee?” “How come he’s not smiling?” And, even more painful: “Why aren’t there any pictures of my child?”

When camps get that last call, Shapiro said, they quickly send out the photographer, but sometimes the child doesn’t want to be captured. “The kid will be like ‘why are you taking my picture? I’m fine.’ ”

With the camp season around its midpoint, some parents report checking their phones or computers more than a dozen times a day for photos, and a YouTube video mocking the behavior has gotten more than 160,000 hits. In it, a camp mom repeatedly and unknowingly says the word “refresh” out loud during a conversation with a confused non-camp mom.

Online camp photos have become such a powerful phenomenon that not looking at them causes its own problems. “If I got behind by four or five days I’d have to go through 500 pictures,” said Shapiro, the mother of two sons. “I’d finally be like, forget it, I’m not looking.”

Beth Teitell can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @bethteitell.
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