Can kids still unplug at camp?

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Getty Images

Technology is becoming more prevalent in our lives, but camp directors are forced to reconsider each year if it should it be more prevalent at camp.

Capital Camps, of Waynesboro, Pa., and Habonim Dror Camp Moshava, in Street, Md., both have “no screen” policies which prohibit campers from using phones, tablets and laptops.

“For us, it begins with our desire to foster meaningful relationships between people,” said Capital Camps director Adam Broms. “Our screen policy is in part about having people disconnect from those devices.”

It’s a common policy.

The American Camping Association found 74 percent of its 2,400 accredited camps do not allow campers to use personal electronic devices at any time, and 84 percent use handwritten correspondence (letters/postcards) as a means of communication between campers and parents.

Rabbi Jason Miller has been on staff at various summer camps and consults about technology at summer camps. He believes camps should encourage both campers and staff to disconnect, but said it is not realistic to entirely ban technology from summer camp.

“The complication is that technology is so much a part of our lives that we’re at the point where you can’t tell campers to not bring their Kindle to camp, because that’s the only medium they use to read books,” Miller said.

The question of whether to ban Kindles, a popular e-reading device, is a question many camps struggle with. Directors do not want to discourage reading, but Broms said the upside of a ban is that it encourages campers to bring printed books. (Kindles are included in the “no screen” policy at Capital Camps. Camp Moshava allows older tablets that lack Internet access, but discourages bringing them.)

So how do teens cope with the loss? Not as badly as you might think.

“I think it’s one of those things that is scarier in thought than it is in reality,” said Rabbi Rami Schwartzer, who has worked in the camping industry since 2005. “I did not notice a real negative reaction [by campers] from not having screens.”

Jen Silber, executive director at Moshava, said the lack of technology stops teens from hiding behind a phone.

“The screen is kind of a safety [shield if] they are shy or have social anxiety. In social situations, kids will just be gathered around a screen,” she said. “When that’s not there they figure out games to play and start interacting with each other.”

She added that most campers have already accepted the lack of technology as a matter of fact by the time they arrive, lessening any withdrawal symptoms.

Miller thinks it is not the campers who need to be forced into disconnecting.

“It’s really the [camp] adults that can’t get away from” technology, he said. Technology is a part of “how our summer camps are run. If you said to a camp director that you can’t have a cell phone in your pocket, they’d feel like they lost their life line.”

He added: “I’m pleasantly surprised at how easy it is for teens to put away the technology and truly unplug.”

Miller once attended a family summer camp where the camp director asked both parents and children to not indulge in screen time. The request, Miller pointed out, was ironic given the director was reading off his iPhone.

There is one kind of technology, however, that does keep making it into bunks: mp3 players.

“For some, [music is] a comfort, for some it helps them fall asleep. But it can also be a very social thing,” said Silber. “Especially with teens, what music you listen to ties into your identity.”

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