Summer camp is being ruined by spying parents

kids playing outside at camp
CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 ferrum college

Facial recognition technology may delight parents wanting constant updates, but it's an invasion of children's privacy.

Not that long ago, when you sent your child to summer camp, you didn't hear about it except through handwritten letters – and that was only if the kid could spare a moment from having fun to write a note to boring old Mom and Dad. Once home, the stories began and continued for months, remembered at random moments in the day and recounted with great enthusiasm. Some camps are still like this.

Others, however, are embracing a high-tech approach to communicating with parents, except can we call it 'communication' if it's just one-way? I'm talking about facial recognition, which notifies parents every time a photo of their child is uploaded online. Camps are now employing professional photographers to roam the grounds and capture on camera as many kids in action as possible, in order to appease the picture-hungry parents, who may receive as many as 10 notifications daily revealing what their children have been doing.

As the Washington Post reports, this brings up some immediate and important concerns about privacy. Facial recognition technology is hotly debated in the world away from summer camps and San Francisco is among other cities that have banned its use for surveillance purposes by public officials and police. And yet, thousands of parents see nothing wrong with tracking their child's every movement at a distant camp – often without their child knowing.

This is highly disturbing. The act of photographing and posting photos online sends a message to kids (assuming they know it's happening, which many do not) that they have no right to privacy. This is eerily similar to the lack of privacy experienced by prisoners. Lenore Skenazy, president of Let Grow, a nonprofit promoting childhood independence and resilience, and founder of Free-Range Kids, described it to TreeHugger as being "like the panopticon at prison – there is nowhere to hide. Nowhere to grow."

As anyone who has been to camp understands, it is a place of tremendous, life-changing growth. That is precisely why so many adults have such wonderful memories of their time at camp. In Skenazy's words, camp has always been a place to go and a chance to become someone new:

"If you were tormented at school, or even just misunderstood, camp was a place you could become another self, even your true self. Why? Because you were AWAY, unshackled from the person everyone 'knew' you were. Camp was like a chrysalis, where you metamorphosed."

Facial recognition technology robs children of that opportunity, while fuelling an unhealthy level of obsession in parents to monitor their child's every move. Helicopter parenting is known to be detrimental to children, not to mention an exhausting state for parents, and regular photos sent from afar don't help. Skenazy suggests that the technology could drive parents crazy:

"'Why isn't she smiling in that photo?' 'He isn't sitting next to anyone at the campfire.' 'Is that a rash?' Sleepaway camp can give parents a break from the sorrows of hyper vigilance too. No one wins."

Another troubling aspect that the Post doesn't mention is that, even if a parent opts out of receiving the photos and notifications, hundreds of other parents can see their child in group photos, which is still an invasion of privacy.

My advice? Don't send your kid to a camp that thinks it's acceptable to subject children to parental surveillance during one of the most formative experiences of their young lives. And if you're a parent who thinks it's a good idea, put yourself in their shoes. How did you want to be treated when you were a kid, on your own for the first time, exploring relationships and pushing boundaries and building resilience away from home? See? I thought so. Parent, leave those kids alone.

Summer camp is being ruined by spying parents
Facial recognition technology may delight parents wanting constant updates, but it's an invasion of children's privacy.

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