By Catharine Steiner-Adair, EdD
Originally Published in the 2014 September/October Camping Magazine
The camp director of one of the oldest and most respected camps on the continent remembers how, a few years ago, his camp’s continuing tradition as a tech-free environment was especially hard for some fourteen- and fifteen-year-old campers. Cell phones, texting, and social media were the personal default setting of their lives. “We had some kids who really missed it,” he told me recently. The networked life was the only life they knew at home and school. Going tech-free was a culture shock for them. Today, he says, the same-aged campers “express a huge sigh of relief to be getting away from the phone and Facebook®.”
Never before have there been such compelling reasons to send a child to summer camp, as we all adjust to life in the digital age. Very few places are left on the planet today where you can see 150 kids happily walking, talking, giggling, and singing together, where they’re fully engaged, fully present to each other, arms linked, with nobody looking down to check a phone. Where else can you see groups of children laughing with each other over the story they’re telling and not the YouTube® videos they’re watching? The tech-free, unmediated moment is so rare in children’s lives today. They hardly know what it’s like to be around grownups, young adults, and peers when nobody puts a conversation on hold to take a call on their cell phone, or “just check” for texts or e-mail. These mini-moments of disconnect have become an accepted part of relationships, but not a helpful one.