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Campfires, Sing-alongs, and Cell Phones



By Sarah Klein

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 started to have a new meaning. Brought up on a daily diet of texting, video games and MySpace, they are steeling themselves for the anxiety of going up to eight weeks without any technology!

In response to what many believe is a severe digital overload for our children, modern and traditional camps alike are deciding to go tech-free. Cell phones are being banned. Personal computers and gaming systems are also being prohibited. Even iPods and other music players are restricted.

Camp supervisors – and many supportive parents – argue that kids shouldn’t need these gadgets if camps are successful in 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. Some camps, like Sun Devil Volleyball Camp at Arizona State University, allow cell phones to be used during free time, but never during instructional programs. 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 Hanes outside of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, 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 iPod or cell phone can cause some anxiety, and brings up some valid safety issues for worried 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 get back to nature and completely ban technology? Let us know what you think!



Comments:
Comment by Christy, posted 6/24/2009, 9:53 PM:

My child who sends/receives thousands of texts a month just spent 2 weeks at camp with no technology. She admitted it felt nice to be out of the drama for awhile. I'm pretty sure she learned more about herself during those 2 weeks than she thought was possible. It was a positive experience for her, although she did get right back into the technology when she came home.
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