Rosenburg Gagnon

Ryan Gagnon (right) accepts the Marge Scanlin Outstanding Research Award from Tom Rosenburg, CEO of the American Camp Association.
Image Credit: Clemson University

CLEMSON — A Clemson doctoral student’s efforts to put the relationship between camping and “excessively involved parents” under the microscope have been honored by a national group of camp researchers and professionals.

Ryan Gagnon, a Ph.D. student in Clemson’s parks, recreation and tourism management department, was recently recognized by the American Camp Association with the Marge Scanlin Outstanding Research Award for his research exploring the influence of overparenting in residential summer camps.

Gagnon partnered with Clemson faculty member Barry Garst on the project, which examined the influence of overparenting on camp participants, staff practices and camp resources devoted to managing camper parents. According to Gagnon, the study results suggest overparenting, while usually well-intentioned, often ends up having a detrimental effect on children and the camp’s ability to provide meaningful experiences for them.

“Some parents put the burden of success on themselves, so they lessen a child’s drive for success later on,” Gagnon said. “Being warm and attentive leads to great outcomes for kids, but taken to extremes this behavior keeps kids from being able to succeed on their own.”

Gagnon believes overparenting reflects privilege and that higher levels of income and education may be a contributing factor to overparenting behaviors as those with more resources have the time to over-involve themselves in their children’s lives.

The research revealed more about the profile of a typical overparent whose child attends camp. Gagnon said these parents tend to overestimate their child’s competency, physical fitness, academic achievement and socioemotional skills. These parents are usually more affluent, more educated and spend more money on out-of-school provider services.

“Parents can too often use another child’s success as a benchmark for their own child’s success,” Gagnon said. “It can manifest as pressure on a child and a competition in the least constructive sense; we should teach children to compete to succeed, not compete to win.”

Aside from the toll on children, the camps involved also face an extra hurdle in providing experiences for children. Parents can put pressure on a camp to pay special attention to their child when camp staff should try to spread that attention to all campers. However, hope isn’t lost when a camp faces overparenting as an obstacle.

Gagnon Garst

Gagnon (left) and Barry Garst stand in front of a poster presentation on their research.
Image Credit: Clemson University

Garst has previously studied the benefits of camp for children, but also parents’ anxieties related to it. He said camps should make parent involvement a priority and give parents a window into their child’s experience, but “a quality camp will make a reasonable effort to balance parents’ concerns with the camp’s own values.”

“Camps can overcome overparenting,” Gagnon said. “Camp managers have done this by increasing a parent’s access to information through social media or enhanced communication. Allowing parents to see their kids while they’re away from them can ease some concerns.”

Gagnon presented his research at the 2017 American Camp Association National Conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in late February. The Marge Scanlin Outstanding Research Award is given annually by the Committee for the Advancement of Research and Evaluation to a student in recognition of research efforts that result in originality, innovation and significant contributions to the advancement of the body of knowledge concerning the camp experience.