Smartphones or Smores? Summer Camps Stand Firm Against Tech

When I think of summer camp, I think of toasting marshmallows by a campfire, stepping in the mud on the bottom of a lake, and itchy mosquito bites. But for a lot of kids these days, summer camp has a new meaning. Brought up on a daily diet of texting, Snapchat and Facebook, they are steeling themselves for the anxiety of going up to eight weeks without access to technology!

In response to what many believe is a severe digital overload for our children, both modern and traditional camps are being encouraged to remain tech-free. Smartphones are universally banned; personal computers and gaming systems are also excluded; and even iPods and other music players are severely restricted.

Camp supervisors – and many supportive parents – argue that kids shouldn’t need these gadgets if camps are successful at keeping kids busy from sunrise to lights out. “The dilemma for camps is that if they do allow technology, the kids will likely plug in and tune out,” said Gary Rudman, founder and president of GTF Consulting, a firm that helps companies advertise to kids and teens.

Most summer camps have had some restrictions on cell phone use in place for years, either banning them completely or only allowing calls at certain times of the day. But those restrictions are being extended to other forms of technology as well. Although almost all camps now have some form of Internet access, use of computers is usually granted only to staff.

Other camps take a slightly different approach, prohibiting the personal use of gadgets but incorporating them into structured programs. At Camp Marist near Ossipee Lake, New Hampshire, traditional camp activities like swimming and archery are accompanied by a few hi-tech options like digital photography classes.

If you know your child just won’t be able to cope without technology, there are other options. Plenty of camps offer specialized technology programs. iD Tech Camps, for example, has programs for film and computer programming, as well as game creation and design. And Microsoft, through its two-day DigiGirlz High Tech Camps, provides hands-on tech experience for girls, in the hope of dispelling some of the gender stereotypes of the high-tech industry.

Many experts agree that giving your child some time to unplug is a good thing. They will get more physical activity and interact with friends in the real world as opposed to the virtual one. But separating a child from his or her smartphone can cause some anxiety, and brings up some valid safety issues for concerned parents.

How do most kids cope without constant access to their tech gadgets? Quite well, according to most camp counselors. Besides, they often learn another new skill during their few weeks away from home: the lost art of letter-writing!

Should summer camps continue to ban smartphones and other technology? Let us know what you think!

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