Taking a Break: The Power of Putting Your Phone Away at Summer Camp

   Camp News

A few weeks ago, I got a wonderful (and scary) wake up call from the most unlikely place. Across my iPhone screen on a Sunday night I got a small notification that read, “Your Weekly Screen Time Average was: 12 Hours, 15 minutes.”  The number shocked me. I clicked on the notification and it brought me to the reports that show my exact usage per app, per day. Again, I was shocked. Apple moved all my app usage into different categories based on likeness: Social Networking, News, Sports, etc. When this feature was released in October, the memes alone were amazing. The reactions of people, both horrifying and hilarious, shines a light on how much time we waste on our phones and devices. The feature, luckily, lets you also put time-limits on certain apps. For example, I now have a 1 hour time limit on all social networking platforms. How quickly do you think that goes by each day?

You are probably curious as to why I am sharing this story about my own usage though. It brought me back to thinking about one thing I told my Senior campers as they got off the bus at Camp Wekeela a few summers ago. As I had a quick meeting with them to hand over their phones, I said, “this is the last time in your life someone will ever ask you to give up your phone and that you will have to.” I caught myself. What a sad thought. Imagine someone telling you today, “Hand me your phone and you’ll get it back in a few weeks.” It just isn’t realistic. But there is still one place in the world where that reality exists. A place where phones and electronics don’t rule our day-to-day conversations, take us away from the important things we do, or overall, waste our time. That place is summer camp.

At Camp Wekeela, we don’t allow our campers to have their cell phones. Some definitely put up a fight. I had one camper give me a ‘dummy phone’ and hide his phone in our cabin for 2 weeks. I only caught him because he had downloaded a new hit summer song in mid-July and knew all the words the next day. Today, children and teens can’t leave home without their phones, without their parents knowing where they are and what they are doing at all times. Not that the sense of safety that comes with cell  phones is all bad, but it’s inescapable. Children need a chance to be kids. How often do you go out to dinner where the children are sitting on an iPad playing a game? Summer camp allows children to get a break from this constant stimulation and slow down. There have been many scientific studies on the effects that technology has on our brains. But developmentally? At Camp Wekeela, we are proud to not allow electronics and cell phones. We believe that a summer at camp is a summer away from social networking and video-games and a time focused on nature, friendships, independence, and fun.

Camp Wekeela gives our campers a place to be themselves and not to hide behind a screen. Campers enjoy the fresh air, the feel of the sun on their face, or the warmth of the water that they swim in. Camp provides a real learning experiment where campers aren’t afraid to get dirty on a hike and learn about nature, instead of Googling it.

Andy Pritikin recently wrote for the American Camp Association, Camp is like a vitamin supplement of the vital things our kids’ lives are missing: Face to face interactions, collaborating together in groups, and navigating the ups and downs of relationships.” Camp Wekeela is no different. When we visit families throughout the year, I get the question from kids a lot, “What if I need my phone? Will you take it away then?” This need and dependency on one’s phone can be dangerous for children. Luckily, at camp, they learn to appreciate the little things. Kids are allowed to be kids. They learn that being in the moment is far more important than finding the perfect filter to capture the moment. There are many things that camp teaches of course, but one important thing is that children can learn that their worth is not defined by how many likes their photo gets but by who they are. We believe this at Camp Wekeela, and we are excited that there are so many parents out there that value the camp experience as well. So there won’t be 12 hours of screen time on my own phone this summer, because my phone will be tucked away while I enjoy a campfire or a beautiful Maine night sky with some awesome campers.

To read Any Pritikin’s article, click here: