Hello, camp director? I was on your website and I don't see them.
July 24, 2017 2:00 PM   Subscribe

For years, summer camp has been known as a technology- and parent-involvement -free zone. But cell phones are making that harder and harder to do. Are Helicopter Parents Ruining Summer Camp?
posted by Mchelly (55 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
 
"It's hard to have as much fun if you're just looking down at a screen the whole time," Alexa says.
Oh really, Alexa? So instead, we should make voice requests to our personal digital assistant?
posted by quiet coyote at 2:16 PM on July 24, 2017 [15 favorites]


I went to camp when I was a kid and later became a counselor and then one of the people running the camp. At the time the height of technology were portable game systems like game boys and things like walkmen/discmen (this was the late 90's early 00's). Getting rid of the games was pretty easy and I don't remember that ever being an issue. The music players were a bit more difficult because the campers would use them to make up parody songs or as background for their skits. I wouldn't even want to think what it would be like now.

I do find it interesting that camp directors say that keeping the counselors off of devices is even tougher, but it makes sense. A camper isn't usually going to have an actual need to check their email or send out a message, but if your counselor is a college student then maybe they need to keep in touch for their other summer jobs or school, because while it may have been perfectly fine not to be reachable for a week back in the day their does seem to be more of an expectation of reachability on the part of employers and schools now. That being said, it is hard to say if these counselors need their device for "legit" uses or if they can't break their screen addiction.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 2:25 PM on July 24, 2017 [3 favorites]


In rebuttal to the article and no one else in particular -- Or maybe, camp leaders should just figure out how to incorporate screen time into a camp's flow of activities. Perhaps it isn't camp the way it used to be, but really, what is?
posted by BeReasonable at 2:30 PM on July 24, 2017 [8 favorites]


As a parent of two eleven-year-olds (who are leaving for camp in five days) I can say that my kids are nicer to themselves and to others when screen time is limited, even if that limitation is not very large. They're happier, more engaged, more active. I personally think that camp is a good opportunity to break the habit of screens, just like it is in opportunity to break out of other habits.
posted by davejay at 2:42 PM on July 24, 2017 [26 favorites]


Clemson bans cellphones and other electronic devices for campers.

That sounds like the answer. Camp is for getting away from things like cell phones.
posted by pracowity at 2:51 PM on July 24, 2017 [11 favorites]


Couldn't the problem of campers glued to their phones be solved by an absence of electrical outlets?
posted by adamrice at 2:52 PM on July 24, 2017 [14 favorites]


So, Friday I was at a conference where a woman was talking about how learning to code is not actually "easy" and about the challenges of introducing people to tech. She asked how many of us had smartphones. "To you," she said, "this is a tool. To them, it's a toy."

As someone who relies 100% on my phone as a tool, I'm kind of aghast by the idea that this is treated as just a phone plus an entertainment device and that the only way you can supposedly keep kids from, I don't know, destroying civilization is to forbid them from going anywhere near one for long periods of time. "Tech overdependence" is taken, here, as a given. But I'm trying to imagine being sent off to camp myself, nearly thirty years ago, and being forbidden from taking a camera. A pen, paper, envelopes, stamps. Being forbidden from taking a journal with me. Or a watch.

I know the camp part of this makes this complicated, but complicated isn't the same thing as impossible, and I worry about teaching kids that their phones are basically toys that they can occasionally also use to talk to their overbearing parents instead of encouraging them to learn to use them to take pictures of beautiful things, write down cool stuff that happened, pass notes to friends, create things, write letters home, stuff campers have always done. And then that phones should be put away when not actively using them in a productive way, because it's a tool, not a toy.
posted by Sequence at 2:55 PM on July 24, 2017 [31 favorites]


My son has been talking about wanting to go to sleepaway camp next year, when he's 9. And I believe he can probably handle it, and if it turns out that he can handle it I'm totally fine going without constant contact with him (though it will tug on the heartstrings). But I had an awful experience at sleepaway camp when I was around 12, and writing home (via snail mail then) wasn't enough to convey that I needed to get out of there right then, as in immediately. And the camp director and counselors either didn't believe me, or didn't want me to leave (maybe $ was involved?), and for whatever reason, didn't let me talk to my parents when they finally contacted them. And I'm terrified that as a first year, young camper, if things do go wrong with him beyond normal homesickness and/or adjustment, how I'll know.

The tone of the piece and the directors - that it's a huge imposition that first-year parents keep calling to make sure their kids are okay - makes me torn between believing this is parents hovering, and this is camp administration refusing to take the time to give any meaningful info (either because of being busy running the camp, or just on the principle of the thing). And if it's the latter, then I sort of do feel like I can understand parents wanting to sneak their kids a phone.

But maybe I'm more of a helicopter-er than I thought.

It seems to me that if the new normal is a camp is inundated with parents wanting info on their kids, then maybe a camp that's trying to adapt should be making an effort to provide that info as part of their new normal services - if they have a social media person, they can certainly have a parent liason of some sort.
posted by Mchelly at 3:00 PM on July 24, 2017 [5 favorites]


Send your kids to summer long LAN parties down the street instead. It teaches them: the value of team work and shooting Steve in the face because he's team killing again; the value of Slurs Over IP as a means of physiological warfare in a MOBA; honing fine motor skills for twitch gameplay and masturbation; urban basement survival on pizza, mtn dew and minimal sleep.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 3:05 PM on July 24, 2017 [16 favorites]


So I looked into the Clemson camps they talk about to make sure the snide things I was about to say were accurate, and it turns out that they mostly run camps for kids with developmental disabilities or speech, hearing, or visual impairments, which makes the whole thing a lot weirder. I would have assumed that smartphones would actually provide a whole lot of useful tools for those kids, so I'm not sure why the camp is so dedicated to taking them away, and also this is not exactly the situation most people are thinking of when "helicopter parenting" is mentioned.
posted by Copronymus at 3:06 PM on July 24, 2017 [12 favorites]


She asked how many of us had smartphones. "To you," she said, "this is a tool. To them, it's a toy."

I think that says more about the arrogance of techies and they way they view non-techies than anything else. My wife is about as tech illiterate as they come and, I assure you, her phone is most definitely a super tool.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:09 PM on July 24, 2017 [16 favorites]


I worry about teaching kids that their phones are basically toys that they can occasionally also use to talk to their overbearing parents instead of encouraging them to learn to use them to take pictures of beautiful things, write down cool stuff that happened, pass notes to friends, create things, write letters home, stuff campers have always done. And then that phones should be put away when not actively using them in a productive way, because it's a tool, not a toy.

That sounds so reasonable, and I agree with you completely...and yet I read in the article that counselors have to be weaned from their phones with a protocol not dissimilar from weaning oneself off of addictive substances, and I remember how hard it was to break out of feeling shy and lonely as a kid.

Having an at-hand excuse to tune out and distract yourself from how hard life can be (socially and emotionally) at that age must be a really compelling thing -- it certainly is for many adults! -- and expecting them to be disciplined enough to treat it as a tool is as likely to work as telling a smoker to only smoke when they need the extra mental burst, or a nail biter to only bite their nails when they've grown too long. The point being that the activities are a soothing escape, readily at hand, and asking them to avoid taking comfort from them and only use them when practical isn't really...well, practical.
posted by davejay at 3:09 PM on July 24, 2017 [23 favorites]


But I had an awful experience at sleepaway camp when I was around 12, and writing home (via snail mail then) wasn't enough to convey that I needed to get out of there right then, as in immediately.

Yeah, my most memorable summer camp experience was spending two days in bed with the worst case of Stomach Flu in my life, while counselors gave me an alka-seltzer and left me unwatched alone for several 4-hour periods and wouldn't let me call home. And while that was happening some of the other kids got to spend some quality time with a counselor and teacher who would go to jail for pedophilia a month later.

So I say let them have phones, and make the camp fun enough that they'll forget the phones for a while. Or why not teach them to take pictures with their phones and show them some apps that help them identify wildlife and plants?

And if the counselors focus on their phones instead of their jobs, fire them, just like any other job.
posted by mmoncur at 3:18 PM on July 24, 2017 [1 favorite]


My kid's at camp. He doesn't have a phone or internet there. I send email, they print it out and give it to him. He writes a letter with pen on paper once a week, they scan it and send it to me. The camp posts pictures so I see what he's up to every couple of days. This setup doesn't seem to cause huge dismay to either the kids I know or the parents I know. As always with these articles, I feel I'm being asked to hyperventilate about a problem that few kids and parents are actually experiencing.
posted by escabeche at 3:21 PM on July 24, 2017 [28 favorites]


Having an at-hand excuse to tune out and distract yourself from how hard life can be (socially and emotionally) at that age must be a really compelling thing

In the early 1990s I used to smuggle a portable radio that could pick up VHF television bands into boy scout camp for exactly that reason. After a day of being mooned, held under water, and being told that I was "probably going to die" because I grabbed a mushroom for the scavenger hunt without having used a pair of mushroom-handling gloves, it was so awesome to sneakily retire to my tent and listen to familiar television while feeling like I was such a badass for subverting the "no portable televisions" rule (walkmen were begrudgingly allowed)

I have no idea what the modern day equivalent of this might be, but I bet somewhere out there is a kid sneakily using their own at-home VPN installation to get around a camp's strict firewall to read webcomics while grinning madly about how no one suspects a thing...
posted by RonButNotStupid at 3:23 PM on July 24, 2017 [13 favorites]


> "But I'm trying to imagine being sent off to camp myself, nearly thirty years ago, and being forbidden from taking a camera. A pen, paper, envelopes, stamps. Being forbidden from taking a journal with me. Or a watch."

That ... doesn't sound unreasonable to me?
posted by kyrademon at 3:50 PM on July 24, 2017 [7 favorites]


I worked at the same summer camp I grew up attending out in the PNW, first as a junior counselor, then as a counselor, then as a manager. Our staff policy was to have our phones on us for emergencies and to only use it for that. I saw a lot of young counselors incapable of putting their phones away, even to pay attention to their kids. People did get reprimanded for it left and right, but it was a losing battle.

The kids, on the other hand, were fairly good about keeping them out of sight or only using them when we had down time in the cabin, but that's because they were banned outright and knew better than to have them out. No electronics for kids in any way shape or form unless it was medically necessary or part of their inclusion plan (for kids with different needs).

In my experience, technology prevents kids from engaging not just with the people around them, but with nature, and their own bodies/emotions. It's really easy to ignore how you feel or tune everything out by putting a glowing rectangle in front of your face. Summer camp is often the only time a lot of the kids I worked with were anywhere near the woods, let alone without a parent or teacher hovering nearby to manage their feelings and experiences. It takes time to adjust to being away from your coccoon at home, a lot of kids were just emerging by the time they had to go back again. I don't think our sessions were long enough, but I also understand how expensive it is to send a kid to camp. We offered scholarships to try to offset some of the sticker shock so lower income kids could attend as well.

In a pinch, if kids ever broke down crying and insisted on calling home, we'd bring them into the office to use the staff phone & get reassurance from mom or dad that they'll be ok. Anyone who visited the nurse automatically meant we notified the guardians/parents. It wasn't like some of the other unfortunate experiences others have shared.

We deeply gave a shit about whether kids were having a good time and learning more about who they are, especially when it came to leaving the safety blanket of technological entertainment behind. It's upsetting to me to hear that some parents are trying to rob their children of the taste of freedom and the perspective that kids gain on themselves when they conquer a hike or cook their cabin spaghetti on a coleman stove. Why even send them to camp?
posted by Snacks at 4:14 PM on July 24, 2017 [25 favorites]


I find the "young ones don't know how to interact/get through day-to-day life without a screen" assertion to be contrary to my experience. I realize this is just one anecdote, but... my uncle owns some cabins around a lake in Maine. Pretty remote - the drive into town isn't too far but there's no cellular data service at the cabins and the house where he and his family live during the season only has satellite internet with a very low max daily bandwidth limit. So when we visited a couple years ago, we were all warned about and prepared for that.

I'll tell you what, it wasn't the younger group that struggled with going without internet, or hopped on the slow house wifi causing my uncle to bitch that the bandwidth kept getting maxed out; it was my parents and uncles and aunts. We'd all head up to the main house to hang out, hoping to drink and chat and catch up with people we don't see very often because we're scattered all over the country, and all the older folks would have their face in their phones looking at Facebook after dinner, while the "kids" would be actually talking and interacting. My phone stayed in airplane mode the whole time I was there; I only took it out to take photos.

Obviously in my anecdote the ages are different than in a camp scenario (the "kids" were all in their 30s and the "adults" 60s and up) but my siblings and cousins and I all commented on the seeming inability for our parents to completely disconnect for a week. Even though we are closer to being digital natives than they are.
posted by misskaz at 4:14 PM on July 24, 2017 [16 favorites]


In the early 1990s I used to smuggle a portable radio that could pick up VHF television bands into boy scout camp for exactly that reason.

Our scout master engineered a camp box that was half cabinetry, with sliding shelf and whatnot. About five kids took that design and engineered in radios, CD players, car batteries, and lights. With today's low power displays and high efficiency solar, you can probably run a full on OLED TV for a couple hours a day. Except broadcast TV sucked then and sucks now. I figure camp was half an excuse for tech company dads to be out of the computer room.

Honestly, the shitty part of camp was the structured merit badge classes.
posted by pwnguin at 4:16 PM on July 24, 2017 [1 favorite]


Since I am constantly learning that I was not in fact supposed to have been taught what I was taught when I was a kid, I could be wrong about this, but my impression is that summer camp was not actually supposed to be fun, at least not entirely. It was supposed to be about a certain amount of roughing it, both physically and emotionally, as you learned to get along without the help of your parents and to build relationships (positive and negative) in your peer group, without the mitigation of the school environment.

I didn't do well at summer camp. I was a sniveler. I remember one girl asking me, with genuine concern, "Do you ever smile?" I missed my mom a lot and I would rather have been reading than doing anything else; the counselors didn't even like me that much. After camp I came to realize that it was because I was not, in fact, likeable, and I learned later how to be less of a load (if not how to be more popular).

Maybe if kids -- and just as importantly, parents -- were given to understand "this is not going to be a barrel of laughs but if you tough it out you will learn important lessons about life and yourself" instead of "this is going to be the best summer ever!" everyone would adjust better, and understand what cutting the cord, and the wifi, is for.
posted by Countess Elena at 4:19 PM on July 24, 2017 [31 favorites]


One of the things that I noticed when I was first camping/working a few years ago was exactly this mobile device phenomenon, not just with youth groups but everyone. I distinctly remember when a large very well outfitted BSA troop come through with what must have been 60 identical dome tents and half a dozen larger ones for troop leaders and kitchens and whatnot.

The first thing I noticed is that every kid had crazy bright LED flashlights and headlamps. Between the lot of them it was like camping next to a Spielbergian UFO landing rave straight out of Close Encounters.

The second was that when the troop leaders called curfew and sent everyone to their tents every single tent started glowing, flickering blue-white and emitting various sounds of games and YouTube. I gathered there were kids from different tents playing games with each other because you could hear them calling out to each other from tent to tent.

And I'm not even judging. I mean, I also owned and relied on crazy bright LED flashlights, and I had a data plan on my own phone for a reason because sometimes I like to watch a little YouTube before I go to sleep. Heck, I even used to use f.lux in red night vision mode on my netbook and read and comment here with the phone on tether.

I was also really curious how everyone in this massive BSA troop was keeping things charged, because I didn't see them all huddled around the one outdoor outlet at the restrooms in the campgrounds or at the other facilities in the park.

I don't think it's that much different than playing board games or reading a book at camp. Marshall McLuhan would probably say something else, but these devices and tools and distractions are here to stay and we'd better learn how to manage them and use them for the best.

I also think it's a missed opportunity to not integrate this pervasive technology as a learning and exploration aid. Augmented reality tools like star charts, plant or wildlife guides would be great. You could do citizen science and logging with cameras and note taking tools, USB microscopes and more. There's all kinds of cool, affordable widgets and gizmos that plug into phones and tablets now, including simple stuff like clip-on macro lenses and microscope adapters.

As a kid I remember just craving to actually get my hands on high tech things like cameras or good binoculars and microscopes specifically for the purpose of exploring the natural world around me, and now almost every kid comes pre-equipped with some kind of integrated media super-computer in their pocket and I'm kind of envious.
posted by loquacious at 4:26 PM on July 24, 2017 [7 favorites]


But I'm trying to imagine being sent off to camp myself, nearly thirty years ago, and being forbidden from taking a camera. A pen, paper, envelopes, stamps. Being forbidden from taking a journal with me. Or a watch.

All those things still exist. None of them are banned. Where's the problem?
posted by Sys Rq at 5:04 PM on July 24, 2017 [16 favorites]


My general thought is that one of the great things about camp was that it prevented parents from being in touch with their kids unnecessarily, but that one of the not so great things about camp was that it prevented kids from getting in touch with their parents when necessary.

I don't think, in the end, that those two things can be perfectly separated when looking at modern technology, but I would think it would at least provide a useful starting lens.
posted by 256 at 5:15 PM on July 24, 2017 [4 favorites]


I have no idea what the modern day equivalent of this might be

A while ago I read about a mother who smuggled a cell phone and charger in her daughter's tampon box. They were caught.
posted by brujita at 5:43 PM on July 24, 2017


All those things still exist. None of them are banned. Where's the problem?

To me, it seems kind of arbitrary and also a little like a 60s Boomer "things were better back then" kind of thing. Why are some technologies bad and others good?
posted by FJT at 5:44 PM on July 24, 2017 [4 favorites]


No experience with camp myself, so my opinion doesn't really matter here. However, it does seem that certain restrictions on technology did result in fond memories working hard to circumvent them for a few users here, which I enjoyed hearing :)
posted by Gymnopedist at 5:48 PM on July 24, 2017 [3 favorites]


But I'm trying to imagine being sent off to camp myself, nearly thirty years ago, and being forbidden from taking a camera. A pen, paper, envelopes, stamps. Being forbidden from taking a journal with me. Or a watch.

Nobody's stopping that. There's saying don't take a telephone and television and radio and video game machine and a web browser to camp. Which sounds reasonable unless it's the kind of camp where you don't do anything you didn't do back home.

Would be too hard for kids to just use the desk phone at the camp? Or do they not exist now?

What about having the kids keep their phones in office storage except for half an hour before breakfast (or dinner), when they are free to come and get them, use them as they like, and then return them at the end of breakfast (or dinner)? And the phones would be available for any special projects in which phones would be particularly useful. But the kids would otherwise be expected to be at camp while they're at camp, to interact with nature and one another face to face, and not spend their time killing the same old alien pixels they kill every day back home.
posted by pracowity at 5:54 PM on July 24, 2017 [6 favorites]


result in fond memories working hard to circumvent them for a few users here

Yes, and teaching kids the most important and vital lifelong lesson of all: how to subvert authority figures.

(Bounces baseball on the wall)
posted by FJT at 6:10 PM on July 24, 2017 [10 favorites]


All those things still exist. None of them are banned. Where's the problem?

To me, it seems kind of arbitrary and also a little like a 60s Boomer "things were better back then" kind of thing. Why are some technologies bad and others good?



I don't know- I went to camp a pretty long time ago, but I learned how to make fire without matches. That technology has little practical application in the modern world, but it is still pretty awesome. I think mobile devices are amazing, but why should there be something wrong with learning to write your thoughts in a journal? Or learning orienteering with a compass? Or learning Morse code? That's kind of what camp is for.

Also, how are we 28 comments into this thread, and not one "Hello Muddah, hello Faddah" reference?


Also, I went to camp so long ago that fucking Jesus Christ was my councilor, and my best friend hadn't fully evolved yet!
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 6:47 PM on July 24, 2017 [8 favorites]


I think mobile devices are amazing, but why should there be something wrong with learning to write your thoughts in a journal? Or learning orienteering with a compass? Or learning Morse code? That's kind of what camp is for.

There's nothing wrong with that. But why are mobile devices being framed as being in opposition to learning those skills? And in many cases, the same mobile devices can assist in teaching those skills.
posted by FJT at 7:18 PM on July 24, 2017 [1 favorite]


In the early 1990s I used to smuggle a portable radio that could pick up VHF television bands into boy scout camp for exactly that reason. After a day of being mooned, held under water, and being told that I was "probably going to die" because I grabbed a mushroom for the scavenger hunt without having used a pair of mushroom-handling gloves, it was so awesome to sneakily retire to my tent and listen to familiar television while feeling like I was such a badass for subverting the "no portable televisions" rule (walkmen were begrudgingly allowed)


I did the same thing at Jewish summer camp with my Walkman - I listened to a soap opera during nap time, and the 11PM news after lights out. It creeped my counselors out because I always knew what was going on outside of camp - major world events and such (I think Reagan died during one of my summers away). One turned my bunk upside down looking for my television. Another read through all of the letters I had received (which never made sense because I had the news faster than the mail could bring it). I always kind of enjoyed seeing their frustration, and then continuing to accurately predict the present.
posted by honeybee413 at 7:25 PM on July 24, 2017 [3 favorites]


I say this as someone who actually grew up at a camp, attended camp, worked at camp and who is in the technology field as a 40+ adult: disconnecting from television, electronics and unnecessary forced scheduling is critical to getting kids to open their minds, learn how to deal with people of all types, be creative and just...be....kids.

Some of my most enjoyable (and hated) experiences came from camp, but all of them made me a much better person, no matter how much I may have disliked the particular event/trauma/embarrassment at the time.

This is one of those topics where I draw a line in the sand: screen time at the expense of real human interaction in social and physical activities is a disaster in this age group. Give me two weeks at camp with the most hardened, cynical, introverted, awkward, snarky kid and they'll go home more well rounded, open, curious and sociable.

It is amazing how kids behave, think and create when they're no longer being spoon fed.
posted by tgrundke at 7:52 PM on July 24, 2017 [8 favorites]


I took my palmtop PC to camp 26 years ago, so I was probably ahead of the trend. Of course, it didn't have internet. Always brought music as well (walkman/disman depending on my age at the time).

If I were a kid now, I'd be pretty upset if I couldn't at least bring my Kindle/e-reader, to me reading is a time-honored camp tradition and I can't imagine buying paper books anymore (or having to buy special books just for camp).

I also did plenty of non-tech things. It's not one or the other.
posted by thefoxgod at 8:03 PM on July 24, 2017 [2 favorites]


My boys went to Scout camp this summer for a week without their devices. They lived. The Scoutmaster didn't try to ban devices -- how else can kids take pictures? -- but he did put down limits.

As a counter-point, I went to a YMCA camp in Wisconsin when I was 9 in 1981, and on our one overnight away from the cabins, our counselor told us all about Ed Gein who had lived "just up the road" (actually in Plainfield, Wisconsin, but this seems to be a not-unique notion!). I barely slept for days.
posted by wenestvedt at 8:06 PM on July 24, 2017


If I were a kid now, I'd be pretty upset if I couldn't at least bring my Kindle/e-reader... I can't imagine buying paper books anymore

If you were a kid now, though, you probably could imagine it. My kid, who loves all things tech, reads exclusively on paper (we have a Kindle, he just doesn't care for it.) Paper books are pretty big with the youth set (maybe because they're not the ones who have to think about how to store and eventually move them all....!)

And yes, I Amazon-ordered the latest Land of Stories book, which came out after he left for camp, to get mailed to him up there. If that makes me a helicopter, chop chop chop chop chop.
posted by escabeche at 9:01 PM on July 24, 2017 [3 favorites]


assuming homo sapiens emerged around 200,000 years ago, we've spent 99.97% of our history without any glowing screens, and then starting 60 years ago we have spent more and more of our time in front of them. now i consider myself lucky if i can go so much as one hour without looking at a screen. these kids are going to spend the rest of their lives sitting in front of a series of screens.

so yes, i am 100% in favor of completely removing every glowing screen from these children's lives for 4 to 8 weeks out of the year.
posted by Vic Morrow's Personal Vietnam at 9:17 PM on July 24, 2017 [9 favorites]


I went to a pretty lax co-ed summer camp on the NC coast when I was a kid in the late 80s/early 90s. It was pre-cell phone (we were allowed Walkmen and/or boomboxes. Gameboys were technically off-limits but if I recall correctly no one really seemed to care if you had one). The camp staff pretty rigorously kept us from phoning home all the time-- especially the little kids, especially on their first camp sessions. I remember finding that sp brutal the first year I went. Like I went to bed trying to hide that I crying from homesickness the first week, because the only thing worse than being painfully homesick was having other tweens know you were painfully homesick. But it subsided, and in later years when I went back I relished having an actually excuse to not report back to my parents. I learned to sail at that camp, which was awesome because a whole lot of being out in the middle of a large body of water is realizing small you are in the grand scheme of things and accepting how little you can actually control (a useful thing to know when you're heading into seventh grade). And though that's the Big Lesson I tend to cite, that enforced distance between me and my mom--even if it was only for a few weeks, even if it was artificial--was probably one of the most important things that happened to me as a child. Not because my mother was awful and intolerable, but because she was awesome and helpful and if they'd let her she would have called me four times a day to make sure I was doing all right. And it would have taken a few more years before I discovered it was possible to do something Important and be my own person without her.

I'm pretty ambivalent about the absolutely no-screen-time issue, but I think giving kids the freedom to operate wholly outside of their parents, to make choices without their parents weighing in, and to explore some totally new space on their own and audition the person they want to be, without preconceptions, is so critical. And if they can do that without being trapped by their preexisting, at-home social media presence, even better.
posted by thivaia at 9:25 PM on July 24, 2017 [3 favorites]


Summer camp in 8th grade was the longest I have been without Internet access in over 20 years. Which is kind of amazing, when you think about it. Also, I was addicted to an MMO at the time, so it was completely excruciating. But I'm sure it built character...
posted by phoenixy at 10:12 PM on July 24, 2017


There's something off-putting to me with the 'just teach them to use their cell phones to interact with nature' idea floated here by many. Almost as if the cell phones are the immutable constant and nature is interesting as an appendage, as another way we can increase our smart phone skills.
posted by mark k at 10:16 PM on July 24, 2017 [13 favorites]


When I was a kid I went to YMCA camp and had a terrible time, to the point where it deeply traumatized me and I think after that summer my parents figured out that leaving me in front of the computer to read about astronomy, go on chatrooms, and play video games was a much better choice. I also hung out with my grandparents or my one friend from school, and read a lot of books, but that's a different story. I really enjoyed being on the computer.

I always envisioned camp as being like in Doug, the Nickelodeon cartoon. I really wanted to go to a camp like that and to have experiences like that, but I was a very femme boy as a kid and I don't know if that would have been better for me. The alleged Christians at YMCA camp definitely did not appreciate my skinny, lithe body and long blond hair. It made me feel weird, and the adults were creeps. I've mostly forced myself to forget events from it. I do remember sneaking to the adult high dive and jumping in the pool though, and I got in a lot of trouble, and then everyone laughed at me.

However, I followed The Blair Witch Project online and saw it in a theater when it was released and after that I decided that I never wanted to camp again. Now I'm 28 and everyone in Portland is all about camping. I've gone a few times and I have a hard time sleeping :P
posted by gucci mane at 11:16 PM on July 24, 2017


It was supposed to be about a certain amount of roughing it, both physically and emotionally, as you learned to get along without the help of your parents and to build relationships (positive and negative) in your peer group, without the mitigation of the school environment.

I went to camp in the 5th and 6th grade, for a week each, and it would have been nice if someone, probably my parents, told me anything like the above. As it was, it was just something people (my brother) did, and it was like vacation, so yay! But also a bunch of stranger kids from other schools and everybody already has friends and so on. I don't think I was as freaked out about it at the time as I am about my memory of it, I'm probably just emotionally backfilling what were periods of simple boredom, but I was definitely in the "Indoor Kids" group for one, and a counselor-glommer for the other. As a result I'm kind of jealous of East Coast style daycamps, which are really like 6 weeks or something, right? There's a whole subculture that probably makes it a lot cooler.

Later on I went to band camp, which was more fun, if only because I had a circle of friends who also went. That meant a buddy and I snuck out once and walked the miles into town to get Burger King, taking a cab back to camp, where we got HELLA BUSTED. It was a damn good idea and successful to boot, and I'm reminded of it every time I see that scene from Wet Hot American Summer. Like before, these weeks were not hugely socially evolutionary.

I vote banning the devices, or just starting camps that are essentially rented out malls and everybody can act like normal. That one's better for the parents back at home, probably. "GTFO MY HAIR for a week or three. Take your phone and laptop."
posted by rhizome at 12:48 AM on July 25, 2017 [4 favorites]


Helicopter parents ruin everything, the wankers.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 1:33 AM on July 25, 2017


"I told her, just be aware of when you're using it. Are you using it because you're bored, or you're feeling shy? Put the phone down and talk to people."

I went to a bunch of different camps in my childhood. There were a handful of outdoorsy ones where I had to sleep in tents, eat bad Sysco food, and be socially ostracized from everyone until I ended up sharing a tent with the weird fat kid no one liked, who turned out to be cool and really into Nirvana just like I was. When I was a little older, I think 11 or 12, I went to a Jewish camp, where I learned how to shoot a rifle, how to be picked dead last for baseball, and how to be socially isolated from everyone until I met the other weird kids. The year after that, I went to computer camp, where I learned BASIC, played Duke Nukem 3D in a LAN party, and was socially isolated from everyone until I met the weird kids who liked the Dead Kennedys and stuff like that.

I don't think the takeaway from this is "technology is bad." I mean, I went to computer camp, and that was more screen time than I'd ever had in my life up to that point. But honestly, the social side of camp was usually lousy, and I don't know that if I'd had a phone to look at, I wouldn't have just spent every day killing time because nobody wanted to be my friend anyway. I don't know how kids interact these days, and I'm sure they're still able to form friendships despite having smartphones, but there's also -- well, I'll tell a story about Jew camp:

I went with a friend who had gone the year before. The other kids were bullies. Total jocks, the kind of kids who would arm wrestle you for a laugh and call you a loser. I was miserable, and so was my friend. I wrote a letter to my mom begging her to rescue me. My friend wrote a letter to his mom telling him camp was going great, and he drew a picture for her. I asked him why he said that, when he was so unhappy, and he said "because I know I'll probably feel better by the time she gets this." And he was right! For days I hoped and prayed that I'd see my mom's car pull up to rescue me. Then one night, I hear this guy go "hey, hippie!" from behind me. I turned around, and instead of the jock bully I was expecting, it was one of the teenage counselors, who also had long hair, and who really wanted me to hear this band called the Grateful Dead. Eventually, the counselors liked me enough that they let me hang out and chat with them after all the other kids had to go to bed. By day I did the nerdy science workshops with the other weird kids, and by night I hung out with the cool teenagers. Then my mom called the camp, and boy was it embarrassing to have to explain myself to everyone.

I'm not saying that's how it always goes, and I know plenty of kids had absolutely miserable experiences at camp from start to finish. But if you have parents checking in saying "in this picture, he doesn't look very happy," the kids don't ever get a chance to work out this stuff on their own. For me, personally, those were the first times that I got to not just ignore the bullying, but be above it. My phone would have been such an easy escape, and instead I got some of the few memories of my childhood where I got to rise above something.

On the other hand, I could have just read the whole time, too. Honestly, phones are probably no different, as long as the people on the other end know how to keep their distance. It's not about the device, it's about getting space and independence, even if it's not easy.

That was a much longer comment than it needed to be.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 3:28 AM on July 25, 2017 [7 favorites]


My kids have mostly gone to traditional Adirondack / Maine lakeside sleepaway camps and the "device" ban is not only comprehensive but completely non-controversial. I mean, these are parents (and kids) who would be very good illustrations of "Entitled" in the dictionary, and "phones in a box when you arrive, pick 'em up when you leave 4-7 weeks later" never draws a complaint. I have never seen a phone in the hand of a counselor either, on visiting day or in any photos.

Note that counselors are reasonably good about highlighting your kids' foibles in emails home, and every camp has at least one full-time photographer and posts (typically) HUNDREDS of photos a day on the internet, so you can see that your little heir(ess) isn't dead at least once every few days, more often if they cross paths with the photographer more often. We get letters but only because a letter is a condition for canteen...
posted by MattD at 6:40 AM on July 25, 2017 [1 favorite]


Seems useful for counselors to have phones in case of emergencies. If they are too screen-oriented, that's a supervisory issue. I guess camp is reflecting the rest of the world, where surprisingly young kids have phones. So they are accustomed to being on messaging of some sort all the time - instagram, fb, snapchat, text, and apps I'm totally unaware of. I'm guessing this is causing dramatic changes to childhood. As far as I can tell, social media makes it easier and more efficient to bully and be mean to other kids, to set up rigid social hierarchies where being cool is pretty dependent on having the right phone, clothes and other consumer goods. I'm not crazy about this.

If I had a camp, you could use your phone 1 hour in the morning, breakfast time sounds good, and 1 hour in the evening, so if you want to get ready to sleep watching youtube, ok. Then you'd have to put it away. Except for classes where you learn to take better photos with your phone, journaling, using a compass and maps to hike, using a 1st aid app. identifying trees, flowers, rocks, birds.

I'm amazed at how many people are freaked out by the outdoors, and have poor ability to adjust to rain, warm or cool weather, finding direction. I have that app that tells you when the ISS will be visible, so my son and I went out the other evening to see it (directly overhead and really bright). He reminded me that I'd once called him to see the ISS and another space thing (I forget) disconnect and how cool he thought it was. Very few people look up at the stars and the amazing beauty of the night sky. So I guess that story is about using a device differently. But camp should get kids outside at night.

I went camping with the Girl Scouts. If you have never been outdoors at night, away from everything, around a campfire with friends, it's not too late.
posted by theora55 at 7:08 AM on July 25, 2017 [3 favorites]


If I were a kid now, I'd be pretty upset if I couldn't at least bring my Kindle/e-reader, to me reading is a time-honored camp tradition and I can't imagine buying paper books anymore (or having to buy special books just for camp).

If I had to do it for an international flight while there was a laptop ban (yes, that extended to Kindles) on flights from the Middle East, you can do it for camp.

(Although as it turned out I didn't read nearly as much as I thought I would on that flight because the airline had a good in-flight entertainment system.)
posted by madcaptenor at 7:26 AM on July 25, 2017


I was nerdy enough that the only camp I ever did that was not at least partially academic was an Outward Bound program. We surrendered our watches (it was the 90s, no one had cell phones), any walkmans or discmans that anyone had, basically anything that relied on a battery that was not a flashlight was banned. The program was incredible, the people were shit. The kids were horrible and the counselors were too busy leading the hikes to actually monitor the behavior of the 12 and 13 year old boys they were in charge of. I got picked on a lot, the kids found that it was easy to move me to tears, it was the only time I was every bullied over eating habits (I was on stimulant medication and a skinny kid, we were hiking over 10 miles a day and eating less than we should have - I ended up throwing up the night I returned after gorging myself on food). I entered the program all confidant that this would be fun, I liked hiking with my parents, I had done some bouldering and climbing, this sounded great. I left having reaffirmed my belief, which had been starting to diminish, that Lord of the Flies was a documentary account.

Admittedly, this was an extreme case - we were in places where even today I do not think that cell phone reception would be available and there were definitely no chargers- anything like that would have had to be carried or stuffed into an extremely small rucksack on an open boat. (The boat was better, we got more food and the kids had decided that it was much more fun to pick on the fat kid than the teary one. I also learned the ability to deflect teasing onto another target that summer.)

I honestly don't know if I would have left if I could have. There was a desire to prove that I could stick it out. If it had been my first time away from home, I probably would have tried to bail. I do know that I was emotionally wrecked for at least a week after the end of the program.

So while I do celebrate the idea of having all the kids turn in their electronics at the beginning of a program, I will testify to the fact that there will be at least one kid at the end of every program who wishes that they just had the guts to burn the place down so that no one would have to go through the same experience.

On the other hand, the academic summer camps that I was part of were fantastic. At some of them, we did afternoon activities that were traditional camp like. I got to do a high ropes course for several summers after classes, which was amazing. (They didn't let kids belay other kids, but it was still really fun.) At those we also did not have any access to computers (except for the programming class I took, but this was in the days before the web really took off) and things were good. On the other hand, I know that there were less popular kids in the program, it was the first time that I was part of the in group.

I don't know if access to devices would have improved the miserable camp experience that I had or made the lives of kids who were miserable at the camps that I enjoyed better. I suspect that being able to withdraw and not be part of that world for a little while would have been valuable.
posted by Hactar at 7:39 AM on July 25, 2017 [3 favorites]


A while ago I read about a mother who smuggled a cell phone and charger in her daughter's tampon box. They were caught.

Ugh, this sounds so entitled. If you want your kid to have a cell phone at camp, send your kid to a camp that allows cell phones. Don't pick a camp that bans cells phones and then teach your kids that rules don't apply to them.
posted by Room 641-A at 7:49 AM on July 25, 2017 [5 favorites]


The most social memory I have of 8th grade summer camp was huddling around the tiny screen of my friend's iPod classic as they excitedly showed me the first episode of their favorite anime ever, Trigun, which they kept downloaded on their iPod just in case they got the chance to show it to someone new.

As a chronically ill person I'm predisposed to hate camps. I'm sure they can be great learning experiences for abled kids, but as an undiagnosed chronically ill and autistic person with heat intolerance, it just fucking sucked. I didn't build character, I just learned to hate the outdoors and other people. The camp I went to gave us a ton of free time, which was great, except the only activities available required either a) lots of physical activity, or b) standing under the bright, hot sun. And of course, that's what all the other kids wanted to do, so I never got to interact with any of them. I spent a lot of time wandering around thinking about stories and characters, which is exactly what I did at home, except I was sweaty and hot and felt a little like fainting while I did it.

I don't like the insistence that kids need to have this experience to be "well-rounded" or whatever. Sure, I'm sure it's great for some kids, but for a lot of them it's pointless. While I appreciate nature, roughing it for a week didn't teach me anything (evidenced by the fact that the only thing I remember from it is watching an episode of Trigun on a tiny iPod screen) and just made me hate the outdoors, and never want to go camping ever again, even for a single night. I know this is partially exacerbated by my sensory processing difficulties but goddamn. Nature is great, we should protect and appreciate it, but some of us just don't want or need the skills you learn in camp.

But I'm probably just bitter that I got forced into all this athletic social stuff 'cause it's "good for you" and yet no one was forced into things I found valuable, such as drawing and reading and creative writing.
posted by brook horse at 8:25 AM on July 25, 2017 [1 favorite]


I had no idea there were so many awful camps and camp experiences out there. The unpredictable awfulness of people--adults in charge--is about the only reason I can see for why a kid would need a device at camp. If you're not allowed to contact your parents when you're sick, or if there's sexual abuse happening, or if your health limitations and other serious needs aren't being considered, that seems like a different set of circumstances for kids and the importance of connectivity.

Maybe the camp I went to was just exceptionally great, but I had plenty of freedom and choice in how to spend the time (some options, all viewed as equally valid, were riflery; arts and crafts; outposting and tracking; "newspaper" aka going around with a pad of paper, interviewing other campers; and "teen discovery" which seemed to be mostly a space for older girls to talk about periods n stuff. There was a drama/theater group, a writing group, and a horseback group, and lots of opportunities for swimming or climbing if you were into that also/instead. I felt so respected and free to be myself. Those weeks were highlight weeks of my life, even though there was some bullying and random injuries and illnesses. This idea that children should be free of discomfort and always have their preferences catered to--what in the hell kind of message is that? How does that prepare anyone for the world?

And the thing about kids using their devices as wonderful omnitools for journaling and learning about nature is a nice thought, but how could you ever be sure they're making good-faith efforts to learn constellations when they could just as easily be playing Minecraft or streaming episodes of Family Guy? That's why they're not great tools: there is essentially no partition between "useful" and "distracting" or especially "destructive." This is not such a problem with a plain camera or pen and paper, where a kid has to make a little more of an effort to be destructive.
posted by witchen at 8:53 AM on July 25, 2017 [3 favorites]


So I looked into the Clemson camps they talk about to make sure the snide things I was about to say were accurate, and it turns out that they mostly run camps for kids with developmental disabilities or speech, hearing, or visual impairments, which makes the whole thing a lot weirder.

Just had this thought: developmentally disabled people are at serious risk of sexual assault, largely perpetrated by 'professionals' who care for the disabled person in some way. Deaf children also have a high risk for sexual assault. I am not at all surprised that parents would want to keep in touch with their disabled children. I say this as a disabled person who has not experienced assault, but was routinely and frequently dismissed by adults and forced to do things I couldn't handle (unfortunately, my parents did the same thing to me, but if I had parents that actually cared about me and my disability, I would absolutely want a way to keep in touch with them that isn't controlled by another adult). That alone is enough to warrant having a reliable method of contact, not to mention the high risk of harm to disabled children from so-called 'professionals.'
posted by brook horse at 9:24 AM on July 25, 2017 [4 favorites]


All of these ideas of using phones for, like, navigation and stuff seem pretty idyllic to me. Have you ever seen a school that actually managed to get kids to stay focused on the task at hand while using devices? Have you ever seen a group of people using individual screens, period? Phones don't necessarily destroy social cohesion or anything but they almost always distract from the task at hand. Regardless of how necessary they are for the task, or how techy the person is.

Yes, kids should be safe. If in a closely-supervised group a cellphone is a difference between safety and danger, we've already lost.
posted by R a c h e l at 2:16 PM on July 25, 2017 [1 favorite]


Also, one of my favorite things about camp is how it's almost this whole other universe with different objectives and a different self and different environment and everything. This American Life did a good episode on that. I think phones, even limited use, would infringe on that pretty hard.
posted by R a c h e l at 2:18 PM on July 25, 2017


If you're not allowed to contact your parents when you're sick, or if there's sexual abuse happening, or if your health limitations and other serious needs aren't being considered, that seems like a different set of circumstances for kids and the importance of connectivity.

Given how frequently this is an issue, it would seem the better tack to take is "Given camps as they currently are, where do we go from there?" vs. "Assume spherical safe camp"
posted by CrystalDave at 2:24 PM on July 25, 2017 [2 favorites]


Too many comments seem essentially to read, "Didn't have phones when I went to camp, so my kids have no need for them now."

IOW, lots of "Get off my lawn."

I work with young adults at risk. This kind of logic is less than useless. It's damaging. Get over yourself. The world is what it is, not what it was.

No kidding phones are a problem! So are adults, so can we ban them? No? Then shut up about phones. They don't do nearly as much damage as the adults.

The fact is, the ones missing their phones the most are almost certainly the ones that have the most real need. The lonely outcasts, the physically challenged, even the exceptionally precocious (but then, those are usually outcasts, so already covered).

Camps aren't good at dealing with the odd kids, nor admitting the problem. Follow the money. The odd kids being unhappy and not returning is cheaper than accommodating a handful of "misfits". Just don't make it obvious.
posted by Goofyy at 3:49 AM on July 26, 2017 [7 favorites]


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