Camp Phone-less


Both day and sleep-away camps provide great opportunities for kids to unplug, connect face-to-face with people of many different ages and learn new skills.  And, many parents are loving this support of no-tech camp rules. 

Lindsay L. says, “No screens allowed, best rule ever!.”  Randi R. chimes in, “No electronics! Best month ever!!” 

Before writing anything else, I just want to say that I wish every young person had access to camps, and it makes me sad that many do not. I have long contributed to organizations, including our regional YMCA, to help provide summer opportunities for youth. I remember fondly the one and only camp I was able to attend growing up. I was in 9th grade and felt so lucky to be there enjoying racquetball, tennis, “skit night,” and more.  

An interesting study that I cite in Screenagers found that children who attended a five day, tech-free camp, had measurable improvements in their ability to read emotional cues when compared to before the camp. 

When kids leave their phones (their connector to us) at home during sleep away camp, it is a great opportunity for them to practice building self-soothing skills. Inevitably many youth will feel homesick or have an uncomfortable new social situation and when they can contact you, to help them through these feelings, they are likely to do that. I just heard a story about a friend’s 12-year-old son who brought a cellphone to an overnight camp that had a no-cellphone policy. Sure enough, he had a problem with a friend and called his parents to come to pick him up. When the counselors saw him on the phone, they confiscated it. He then fell apart even more and demanded that his parents pick him up. They didn’t, and in the end, he had a great few days.

I would just add that all camps have an emergency phone available with the adults and if necessary, you can contact them, and they can contact you. But remember, when your kids feel homesick this is an excellent opportunity for them to make strong connections to other trusted adults and peers, and that can be undermined if they can call you for every problem.

Camp Newman in Northern California sums it up perfectly in their rules book:

We recommend that your child powers down, unplugs, and takes what we’re certain is a well-needed break from the world of electronics. We recommend bringing other ‘interactive’ things, like playing cards, chess, scrabble, word games, etc. Of course, books are always welcome! Please be respectful of the usage and content limitations we have in place.

Some day camps do not have clear guidelines about mobile devices, or if they do have a no-device policy, might not have the bandwidth to enforce it. That is why if you want your children or teens to stay off their phones at camp, you will need to simply ask them to leave them at home. It is a great chance for them to practice asking to use a counselor’s phone if they need to reach you during the day. These little moments of getting out of their comfort zone to ask for a bit of support (i.e. to use a phone) are wonderful ways to develop communication skills in general and in this case, self-advocacy skills. 

Here are a few questions to start a conversation about how to deal with tech and camp:

  1. Do you know the rules at your camp around technology?

  2. If you were to leave all your technology at home what would you miss most and why?

  3. What are some strategies you can think of to use when, or if, you feel socially uncomfortable or homesick?

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