"When I was a kid I always wanted to be a camp counselor. I thought it would be great. Now I feel like I'm in prison. I wish I had never become a counselor because my dreams of what being a counselor is like have been shattered. Completely shattered."

The speaker is Dennis Barnes, 24, a junior at Bowie State College and a counselor at Kings Landing, a YMCA camp in Huntington, Md. He is sitting under a cluster of trees overlooking a large open field. Behind him, set back in the trees, are five tents. Barnes is a counselor in Tent 3 - senior boys.

One of the reasons Barnes came to Kings Landing was to get out of the city for the summer - he was born and raised in Washington. Now when he gets any free time he spends it at home.

"When I went to camp, counselors had a certain amount of freedom," he said. "They were respected by the campers. Now it's a 24-hour-a-day job. You can't turn your back for a minute. You have to be watching them or working with them every minute."

Although Barnes is somewhat more vocal than others, the consensus among counselors both at Kings Landing and at a more expensive camp, Ramblewood in Darlington, Md., is that being a counselor is not what it used to be. And the reason is the change in the campers.

"The kids today just aren't as into being campers as we were when I went to camp," said Beth Gerber, a group leader at Ramblewood. "They aren't as spirited."

"I think it has something to do with the way they're brought up. They're not as interested in doing things as we were. It's a different atmosphere."

The counselors see the campers of 1977 as lazy, spoiled, self-centered and utterly willing to lie around and do nothing.

Most of the counselors were campers themselves and enjoyed their camp experiences. That is the reason, most say, they became counselors - they wanted a chance to go back to camp. The money is not very good. Beginning counselors at Ramblewood will earn around $250 a summer. Third or fourth-year counselors may earn between $500 and $600. The pay at Kings Landing is comparable.

"You don't come here to make money, you come here because you enjoy it," said Tim Chestnut, another group leader at Ramblewood. "I had a job earlier in the summer that paid more than twice what this does."

Chestnut is one counselor with little camp experience - "I couldn't afford it" - and he finds attitudes of many of the campers difficult to deal with.

"The kids now are a lot more spoiled than when I was young," he said. "If they want something, they expect to get it. They get bored with things easily. The kids at this camp come from comfortable backgrounds, very comfortable backgrounds. It's noticeable."

But the counselors at Kings Landing say there is more to the change in attitude than money. They see the same sort of things Chestnut sees in kids from completely different financial backgrounds.

"The kids today seem to want everything for themselves," said Jeff Friedman, an Antioch College sophomore who works with the older boys at Kings Landing."They have less respect for authority than we did. I still enjoy working with them, though. I know it's harder than it used to be but I still like working with kids."

Another complaint is the campers' dependence on TV. At Kings Landing a poll taken of what they missed most turned up a cabin of girls voting unanimously for "Happy Days" on the tube.

"You can see how much TV means to them all the time," said counselor Jenny Derick. "When we played charades the other night every single one the kids did was from a TV show. No books or anything just TV."

Camp directors echo the counselors' claims.

Bobbi Osherow is the wife of Ramblewood codirector Bernard Osherow. She also doubles as girls head counselor.

"This is the kind of job where you have to know that there is a very definite end you're working toward," she said. "In the case of this summer, it's Aug. 16. You just can't work a job that is so hectic and pressured without knowing there is an ending somewhere along the line.

"The kids today are much more sophisticated about what is exciting than we were. Something that used to be a big deal just isn't anymore.

"The changes in attitude towards authority in the '60s have carried over. The kids have gained the upper hand. It makes things very hard for the counselors. Now, the kids yell back at them. That never happened when I went to camp."

Linda Grief, director of Kings Landing, sees camps today as necessarily being very different.

"I think if we were offering the same kind of program camps offered 15 or 20 years ago, no one would come to camp," she said. "Kids want more diversity today. We have to try and give them things that fit their current needs. Make city kids award of the country and the environment.

"If kids are bored today, they say so. They're much more aggressive and assertive than they used to be. When they want something, they say so."

The campers seem to have the best of both worlds. What they want, they get. The counselors say they have to work harder, but most of them still enjoy their work.

"I've been coming to camp since I was 3," said Cathy Bezozo, a Ramblewood counselor. "It's been part of my life. It's different now. It's work. But I'm glad I'm here.

Perhaps Barnes summed the situation up best.

"You have to like kids to be here," he says. "I just wish I could work with a bunch of kids who really love camping, who enjoy roughing it, who are here to have a good time.

"That what I always thought being a counselor was about. That's what I wanted to do. I wish it really was that way. It used to be."