3 Reasons Why Your Camp Should Continue to Ban Mobile Devices

Posted on 3/26/16 3:28 PM by Marisa Samek

Many sleep-away camps pride themselves in offering an “unplugged” experience to their campers. The benefits of spending just one week to an entire summer without technology’s constant chatter seems obvious but, no matter how many times camps reiterate the “no mobile devices” rule, kids still arrive at drop-off with phones, tablets, and laptops tucked away in their duffel bags.

Discover 3 reasons why your camp should continue to ban mobile devices:

Faced with children who expect to use technology everywhere and anywhere, as well as parents who expect the same, camps and schools alike have started to reconsider their "no phone" policy altogether. Times are in fact a changin’ and camp directors and school principals just need to adjust. Nevertheless, as a home-grown Millennial who spends a significant amount of time on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, Reddit, ichat, Snapchat, Youtube, and plain old texting, here are 3 reasons why I think camps should stand up to the phone-happy masses and continue to ban mobile devices at camp:


Reclaiming Conversation to Truly Connect

Visit any school cafeteria and you’ll see how conversation revolves around a kind of Internet show-and-tell. You show me a video of a walrus hugging a baby and then I show you a hilarious Frozen meme. Although phones can enhance a conversation by offering fresh material, they ultimately encourage sharing outward rather than reflecting inward and truly connecting.

In her recent book Reclaiming Conversation: the Power of Talk in the Digital Age, M.I.T Professor Sherry Turkle discusses ways in which we need to put down our devices and reclaim conversation. Turkle provides real-life examples of how unplugged summer camps help children to reconnect with their peers and even reconnect to themselves. In her interviews, young campers express how they've never been able to just talk to their friends at school in the way they can naturally share and connect with their friends at camp.  Unplugging your camp provides children with the opportunity to open up to one another.

Autonomy in Real Life

On the one hand,  smartphones offer autonomy by allowing children to curate their own online universe. On the other hand, autonomy in the digital world can impede one's ability to develop autonomy in the real one. The difficulty that today's children have expressing themselves in face-to-face conversations is very real; many aren't raising their hands in class, they're struggling to resolve schoolyard conflicts and most parents can attest to the eerie silence during family dinner while kids have their eyes cast down at the phones in their laps.

Giving up mobile devices encourages children to gain confidence outside the digital world, teaching them valuable skills that will take them beyond the schoolyard into the workplace and their future relationships. All camps strive to help their campers develop autonomy and self-confidence. Allowing kids to retreat into their phones undermines that goal.  

Plugging into Nature

The benefits of immersing yourself in nature are obvious to anyone who has taken a simple 20-minute stroll around the park. Countless articles extol the virtues of spending time outdoors and, as a counterpoint, the serious lack of disconnected play that kids engage in. Nature slows kids down and brings them outside the digital world, where information is generated at breakneck speed. It helps them to regain focus and a sense of calm while offering up an opportunity for self-reflection.

Summer camps offer an ideal antidote to the over-connectedness of daily life. As part of their creative programs, many camps offer video and photography activities which I think are entirely valid and great ways for kids to express themselves. The real harm is when campers are engaging with their phones rather than with their peers.

For what it’s worth, many campers are, more often than not, texting other campers who are a bunk-bed away but that's not enough. Children need very real, face-to-face interaction to develop the ability to understand social cues, to cultivate a sense of empathy, and to create connections to their friends and their environment. 

While there are many things technology can help us do better, there are also many things that are simply better without it. Camp and all the life lessons it offers is one of those things so don't stand-back from keeping it that way. 

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