Disconnect: How Camps Help Get Kids Out of Touch

By: Jeremy Plane, Camp Abnaki Assistant Director

According to TIME Magazine, a report by The Kaiser Family Foundation published last year found that children between the ages of 8 and 18 spend an average of 7 hours, 38 minutes a day using entertainment media (read the full article here).  That makes social and entertainment media practically the full-time job of today’s youth.  Many kids today can’t imagine life without the ability to text their friends, tweet their thoughts, or be in touch with the “outside world” 24/7.

And yet, every summer, thousands of kids nationwide leave all those connections behind.  They spend days and weeks swimming, playing Frisbee, and making new friends—and summer camp is where they go to do this.

I have worked for the Y, and Camp Abnaki, for over a decade.  Camp is a place where kids use conversation to communicate with friends instead of instant messaging; play soccer instead of World of Warcraft; and tell stories instead of watching them on TV.

I believe this has become a new function of summer camps:  to help kids learn how to disconnect from the constant stream of a technologically-based life.  At Camp Abnaki, we forbid cell phones, portable video games, even iPods.  We believe that stripping away these things will help our campers unplug and enjoy the natural environment around them.  By helping them disconnect, I believe we are helping them reconnect to the natural world and the people around them.

I have worked with campers, whose parents describe them as being “addicted to computer games,”  who thrive at camp, and find enjoyment in playing games outdoors.  I have had staff tell me that the best part of being at camp is being able to forget about the “real world,” to disconnect from the 24/7 cycle of news and social media.

I recently interviewed a long time camper who is moving into our staff ranks.  He related how, after 5 weeks in our Counselor in Training (CIT) program, he didn’t watch TV for a month after returning home—it did not hold his interest the way it used to.  He found himself restless to be doing things active, and outside.

Research has also shown a direct correlation between time spent watching television and using computers and childhood obesity rates. By helping kids unplug, summer camps can help them form healthier habits and find new hobbies that engage their minds and bodies.

I guess what I’m saying is this:  camp can help your kids disconnect.  And that may be the best thing for them.

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