by Margaret Stockard
As I write this on my technological device, I think about how important digital advancements have become. I use my computer for research not those silly games like other folks. I use my phone as a map, a conversationalist buddy, and a productive tool when my computer is not available. Oh and also my iPad comes in handy for late night television catch-ups. But I also read the news on it so really it’s educational. I have a Facebook page, a Twitter, an Instagram, a Pinterest, and not long ago I was avid on Tumblr and Snapchat (trying to stay on the up and up among the young people isn’t that bad, right? I mean I work with them). Part of my job is even to use social media as a connection to others. It’s valuable, it’s convenient, and it’s fast. It also helps me rationalize my time. Have I not made superb points as to why I need all of these things??? But…do you want to know where I am most content? Where life is the fullest? …..summer camp.
On average, young people spend about 7+ hours a day looking at a screen. Schools are even giving out laptops to students now. I work at an after-school program and have yet to see a textbook. But laptops and phones and iPads are ubiquitous. Kids know more about Flappy that bird thing than they do about Martin Luther King, Jr. or how to properly form a sentence. Kids sit in the same room, sometimes even side-by-side, and hold entire conversations with each other via an electronic device. Somewhere amidst the wonderful advancements, we lost our way to truly connect. I, an avid lover of books and face-to-face interaction, even find myself stopping mid-read to check my phone here and there. It’s fast and stimulating and well…at times quite addicting.
This is not to bash technology. It has its place and importance. But one of the things I love most about heading away to Maine for camp every year is knowing that for three months I will loosen the grip on all of those invisible, bright, and selfie-induced strings. And I’m not the only one. Kids come back to camp year after year, making friends for a lifetime. They truly enjoy these visceral connections where they can see, touch, feel, and connect. Digitally-free.
As young people grow older, they learn skills that hopefully will take them far. Technology has some great tools to help them grow. But you will most likely also need to know how to sit in an interview and engage. You will need to know how to work with a team and handle problems, issues, and topics that you may not all agree upon. You will need to think on your feet. You will need to be able to speak in public. Persuade someone on an issue you believe in. Even perhaps handle a broken friendship or relationship. A marriage. Engage with your children one day. The foundations built in adolescence set a lot of groundwork for what is to come.
Summer camp is not the only place to find these skills, but it is a place where these skills are definitely utilized and instilled as the substratum. You can’t make a friendship bracelet online. You can’t roast a marshmallow with your new friend online. You can’t run around wearing neon and chasing after colored rocks online.
Children need to know that they mean something outside of their Facebook profiles, Instagram likes, or re-tweets. A hug, a high-five, a good cry, a yell of victory, or getting up on a water-ski for the first time, making a perfect bowl in ceramics after failing five times previously, handling an issue with a bunk-mate, or learning more about his/her life and how it is perhaps not that different from your own. It deals with the ups and downs and the independence, mixed with teamwork, collaborative problem solving, and laughter like never before. I can’t say enough good things about summer camp. And I have many positive things to say about technology. But I think a balance is called for. And camp is a great way to just release the grasp for a bit. No matter your age.
Below is a great TEDx video by Steve Baskin from a TEDxSanAntonio conference in 2013 about summer camp and unplugging. I highly recommend everyone watching this video as it gives some good insight into this topic.
“[Camp] is the only place I know of where you can get elementary school kids and teenagers to put down their phones, log off their computers and game system and thank you for it… This is what genuine connection feels like. This is what real friendship feels like. And as they become good at becoming fully present with another human being, they become better for it and better at it.” – Steve Baskin