Contraband Care Packages

August 2nd, 2013 by Andrea Bennett

Are hypercompetitive parents ruining the care package experience for kids at camp?

Brought to you by Liberty Mutual's
The Responsibility Project

Have your kids’ sleep-away camps banned care packages? According to a New York Times article, the reason a growing number of camps around the country won’t let parents send their kids treats is not overzealous counselors, the threat of attracting vermin, or increasing interest in keeping kids healthy – it’s the “game of brinkmanship” among hypercompetitive parents who are “sending oversize teddy bears and bathtubs of M&Ms.”

“We have entered the age of the care package wars, where strong-willed camps and strong-willed parents battle over control of their children’s loyalty and downtime,” the Times’ Bruce Feiler writes.

In fact, sending packages to campers has become such big business that companies have sprung up to help busy parents jockey for ways to help their kids be perceived as cool. One Kansas company devoted to care-package distribution has a 12,000-square-foot distribution center and 25 employees, and it’s the fourth largest shipper in the state during camping season.

Fed up with status-seeking parents, whose over-the-top packages only serve to foment jealousy and ill will among campers, many sleep-away camps are doing away with treats altogether, Feiler writes. But his article is less about care package bans than it is about the smuggling strategies parents are employing to get around the bans. Think hollowing out books and stuffing contraband candy in tennis balls. Other methods: taping gum into magazine pages, stuffing chocolate into socks and even filling emptied deodorant containers with candy. The results of these efforts are new “intricate screening mechanisms that rival what the White House uses to test for ricin.”

But camp isn’t the only venue in which competitive parents are ruining childhood pleasures, writes mom blogger Denise Schipani. During a year in which her kids’ school principal banned all food for school events altogether out of frustration, “many a class mother flouted the rules.” They flouted them for the same reason care package parents do, she says. “To satisfy themselves that their kids would be cool, at least as long as it took for him and his bunk-mates to tear through the tennis balls looking for Mike and Ike’s.”

In the end, the competition and smuggling doesn’t teach kids to follow the rules, both writers contend; it teaches them to circumvent them. Do you think authorities are overreacting, or should parents be less concerned about their kids being cool and more concerned that they learn responsibility?