It is with great excitement that I write the very first of my weekly posts discussing various topics related to camp and education. At times these two subjects work hand in hand and can be relevant throughout the year.
If you had to guess, what would you say is one of the most common questions that a camp director is asked? As a Director I would have to say ARE CELL PHONES AND ELECTRONICS PERMITTED IN YOUR CAMP?
I want to begin by stating that I believe that when computers, IPads and IPhones are used in the right way, many wonderful things can be accomplished. For example, I had students who were not succeeding in school by conventional standards, but they are computer geniuses. They put together the most amazing websites and school videos, and when technology was integrated within the lesson, they achieved significantly.
Sleepaway camp is a wonderful time for campers to interact with their peers and counselors without distractions. Picture a day of fun: kids enjoying motor boating, sports leagues, developing a cheer, color war and so much more, all without feeling the need to break every 5 minutes to check their phones to see what their friends are texting or tweeting. Rather they get to talk, enjoy and strategize with their friends on how to win a sports game or be a part of planning a fun activity with their bunk or counselors. It’s not a complicated social interaction – it can be as simple as sitting around a camp fire and roasting marshmallows, just socializing with friends in a healthy, face-to-face way.
Too often I have seen cell phones prevent maturity and growth in a camper during the summer. In today’s day and age with calls to Directors and Head Counselors, e-mails, thousands of pictures being posted on camp websites everyday, a parent can easily get a sense of how their child is doing in camp in a matter of minutes. I know in our camp the camp mothers, division heads check on the children regularly (even with hundreds of campers) and are in constant contact with the parents. After all, parents have (hopefully) done a tremendous amount of research before they register their child in camp, when they are entrusting their child to a camp which they see as an extension of their own family.
While this constant interaction is very beneficial for the parent, constant contact for the camper may impede on the tremendous growing experience that camp has to offer. How? Campers need to see the entire picture, experience the environment and meet everyone throughout the camp before they should formulate an opinion about their experience. There are many campers who like camp instantly and do not need any adjustment period. There are other campers that within minutes hate a camp without even seeing the entire picture of the camp experience nor getting to know the members of the bunk. There are those who love camp, but suddenly decide that they dislike camp, just because they lost a hockey game.
Campers need to learn how to socialize with their peers, staff members even when there are difficulties and disagreements. Isn’t that what the real world is like, especially in the work environment? Schools, and particularly summer camps, need to work on improving children’s social skills and problem solving skills on a daily basis, in addition to all the amazing programs and sports activities that are taking place. Often, cell phones stunt that growth as camper’s feelings change by the minute in camp. I once had a camper who lost the basketball championship; he called home and declared that he didn’t like this camp anymore. Twenty minutes later, while he was enjoying an amazing activity, he texted his parents and said “Never mind, this place is awesome.” That parent called me that evening and asked for the phone to be confiscated. They wanted their son to enjoy camp life without running to his parents for every issue.
We, as adults and parents, need to give our children space and give them a chance to just “be kids” and learn to deal with certain social situations without the “crutch” of a cell phone. Every experience in camp and school may not be so perfect but we have to give our children the opportunity to try to solve the problem without our parental input. There are many experienced staff members they can turn to for help in these situations – part of the maturation process is learning how to resolve issues without turning to Mommy and Daddy.
All these being said, I do believe that it is important for campers to speak to their parents every once in a while and express their excitement about camp and discuss what they have achieved, or if there are larger issues, discuss them with the parents. That is why we allow the campers to have their phones on trip days. One helpful idea is that when your child does call on a trip day try and discern, during your conversation, what are “real” issues and what are not. If a child is not picked to be the captain of her team that day, that is not a reason to be alarmed. Other complaints expressed may warrant concern and should be explored with the camp upper staff. Always remember — when we immediately agree with your children without hearing and understanding all the facts, it can put your children at a social disadvantage when there is really nothing wrong.
The summer is an exceptional chance for children to grow – to learn how to interact with campers from other communities and even other countries, grow friendships with these new friends, and hone their inter-personal and conflict resolution skills.
At times, the constant presence of cell phones and other technologies can impede that growth. Yet, it is crucial to remember that cell phones and texting are great for communication when they are used in a healthy way.
Click here for a great article regarding cell phones in camp!