Is Summer Different Now?

A long time ago and far away, say, in the halcyon (not really) days of the 1950s and 1960s, summer meant road trips, day camp, and ice cream. Labor Day is fast approaching and with the long weekend (that includes the Telluride Film Festival), the start of the fall season here and everywhere, 


WE like to remember a child’s summer as a season of no responsibility, unfettered by parental supervision, a time to indulge and explore. And we like to complain that summer has changed; that children have more responsibility, less freedom, fewer indulgences.

But has it really? The staff members of The Upshot spent several fine summer days at their desks searching for data. Some things, like the number of children who spend an entire day alone wandering a city or hunting for crayfish in a creek, are unmeasurable. But there is clearly evidence that summer is different. Maybe not worse or better, just different.

Programmed Camps

It’s a common lament that children today are missing out on the aimless summer days their parents enjoyed, getting lost in the woods and daydreaming under sunny skies. That sense of loss is grounded in reality. Data on how children spend their time out of school shows that organized activities have increasingly replaced free play.

Summer days are now likely to be spent in day camp. The number of day camps has increased 40 percent in the last five years, according to the American Camp Association, with the biggest enrollment increases among children 9 and younger. Their popularity has grown because more families have two working parents, said Tracy Holman, a spokeswoman for the association.

Day camp itself is also more structured. It no longer means hiking and making friendship bracelets. Now parents choose from dozens of specialty camps, emphasizing things like leadership, archaeology, fashion, crime-scene investigation and computer programming…

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