While many television programs and video games may be educational as well as entertaining, camp provides children a rare opportunity to unplug, allowing them to run, jump, and play, as well as interact with other children, the external world, and nature.
Research by the Kaiser Foundation concluded that young people between eight and eighteen spend an average of 6.5 hours a day absorbed in media. Most of it is electronic and much of the time is solitary.
The camp industry’s response to technology
Today it seems as if kids don't leave home without their cell phones, laptop computers, and iPods®. Oftentimes kids are more tech-savvy than their parents. As a result, camp directors are responding to this growing trend and deciding what kinds of electronics they will allow into their camp community.
Some camp directors are choosing to ban electronic items, altogether, saying that tech toys involve solitary and sedentary activities that clash with what camp is all about—developing social skills, building community, sharing traditions, appreciating nature, and being physically active.
Many ACA-Accredited® camps do not allow cell phones/picture phones, iPods®, computers, video games, boom boxes, electronic fans, hot pots, or other electronic devices. Because camps encourage kids to be "unplugged" while attending camp, some camp directors warn parents about "things not to pack."
However, there are many camps that offer programming specifically based on technology. For instance, 12% of ACA-accredited camps offer computer or technology programs, including video editing and computer programming.
TV off, nature on!
While children benefit from "unplugging" at camp by turning off the TV and getting outside, technology is still a good way for parents to stay close to their children while they are away at camp. Many camp Web sites post newsletters, videos, and pictures of campers for parents to view.
Peg Smith, ACA CEO, said, "It seems that children are shielded from real-life experiences with screens, but it is amazing what can happen when children step out from behind the TV, video game, or computer screen into a rich camp environment full of experiences and surprises — new friends, new songs, new achievements, combined with new growth and independence."
"The essence of camp is the presence of supportive relationships, meaningful opportunities, and challenging activities in a physically and emotionally safe environment. A place designed for and with children, where they can explore and discover an important rite of passage for children."
Weaning our children off of technology and back into the real world
Writing home from camp has been a tradition for generations, and it’s still practiced and encouraged today. However, some camps utilize high-tech ways of communicating with families so they can see photos of their kids on the camp’s Web site, and others allow parents to fax or send campers e-mails, which most camps print and distribute to the camper. Some camps even allow campers the opportunity to plug in and e-mail home once a week, but many still encourage campers to use the "old technology," writing home with pen and paper through standard mail.
Wendy Mogel, Ph.D., a nationally known clinical psychologist and author of the best-selling parenting book The Blessing of a Skinned Knee, encourages children to get outside and play:
"At camp you will get all kinds of valuable gifts: you will get homesick, other campers will be mean to you, the food won’t be great, you’ll be cold and hot and hungry, and you will get injured! At least a splinter. At least I hope all of this will happen to you because otherwise you are deprived. Of life. Of its thorns and its roses."