It’s a common policy for summer camps to ban electronic devices used for entertainment like portable video players, games, Internet devices, and most any kind of flickering screen. And Rockbrook is no exception. While we do allow campers to have personal music players for use during rest hour, we don’t want our girls to be “plugged in” while at camp. For us, taking a break from technology is an important part of camp life. In fact, we believe powering down all the screens, eschewing all those apps, can make a profound impact on the girls at Rockbrook.
You might think that summer camps are only recalling the simpler life of earlier days, that we are akin to Neo-Luddites, rejecting modern technology in the name of tradition. Camps have always represented a return to nature, a trip to the wild-er-ness out and away from civilization, and this meant giving up certain modern conveniences. Given how many things at summer camp are described as a “tradition” —the closing campfire, the songs, even something mundane like the arrangement of different age groups in camp, for example —it is possible that some camps factor out technology, at least initially, because they want to preserve the tradition of “not needing all that.”
Fueling that sentiment is the rapid acceleration of technology in our modern lives. As new alluring technologies arrive making life more convenient and efficient, summer camps proudly serve as a refuge from the “digital age.” Most parents already have a hunch that their kids spend too much time consuming electronic media (One study showed an average of more than 50 hours per week!), so camps are happy to provide a break from “all that,” just as they’ve always done. But beyond the benefits of a traditional simple life, what do camp girls really gain from avoiding their electronic gadgets for a few weeks?
I’ve mentioned a couple important benefits before, namely that camp proves how turning off your technology makes life richer and more fun. It provides first hand evidence that engaging all of what camp offers— the real friendships, the physical activity, and the chances to explore and discover the natural world —actually doing things (stimulating and utilizing all our senses), outshines the flat electronic entertainment of even the best smartphone. It’s a lesson we hope can be carried home and applied in the face of boredom.
In addition, though, there is new research suggesting that modern technological shortcuts, digital communication, and electronic entertainment can be detrimental to youth development. In their book, The App Generation: How Today’s Youth Navigate Identity, Intimacy, and Imagination in a Digital World (Yale, 2013), Howard Gardner and Katie Davis, argue that being “app-dependent” can adversely affect young people’s developing sense of identity, their ability to become close to other people, and their creative powers. Drawing on the well-known work of Erik Erickson and his stages of psychosocial development, this book raises concern that technology, while certainly enabling in important ways, can too easily become a crutch, thereby stunting the development of these crucial human skills. Kids need time to work out who they are in relationship with the world. They need diverse opportunities to meet and interact with other people, to get to know and appreciate them. Young people crave fresh experiences, and thrive when they can solve problems and feel the satisfaction of a creative achievement.
Gardner and Davis are presenting a cultural critique, issuing a warning that when children have easy and pervasive access to computer and phone apps, their fundamental human development is impaired.
Thankfully, there is camp. There is a place without apps and without technological shortcuts to communication. There is our girls camp Rockbrook with all is natural beauty, ripe with unexpected opportunities to discover something new and experience it intimately— to really feel it, to get both lungs full of its smell. There is a community like this where the people care for each other, laugh and play together, and are enthusiastically creative. Rockbrook encourages girls to explore who they really are, to be their true selves, and provides just the right environment to then form really deep friendships. Just look at the photos in this post, and you’ll see what I mean.
Unplugging from technology at camp— There’s no “app for that” here —doesn’t make all this happen, but if we allowed girls access to their screens, we’d undermine our goal to help them grow personally, socially, and imaginatively. Quite intentionally, and for really good reasons, camp is a haven from all that.