A Life Unfiltered

Summer camps have long been described as places where children can benefit from eschewing certain aspects of modern life, where children, for example, can “return to nature,” practice “physical fitness,” or discover “spiritual truths.” Through the generations, as our society has evolved away from some social or cultural norm, parents have sought a way to provide their children access to what they feel is being lost. In this way, camps have happily served as repositories of tradition, havens from the inadequacies and perils of unchecked “progress” accepted by society.

zip line child

In recent years, a new threat of modernity has risen to the top of the list. It’s not simply “technology,” computers, television or the Internet, in the broadest sense, but it’s related these. It’s the smartphone, in particular the smartphone when in the hands of a child or adolescent.

Professor Jean M. Twenge (Dept. of Psychology at San Diego State University), who researches generational differences, has published a new book that explores how the introduction of the smartphone, its now near ubiquity among teenagers and other young people, correlates with a number of serious public health concerns. The book is: iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy— and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood —and What That Means for the Rest of Us. She also just published an article in The Atlantic adapted from the book: “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?

girls weaving looms

I want to encourage you to read the article, in fact STRONGLY encourage you, because I think you will find it informative, and perhaps troubling if not horrifying. Working at the level of demographics, Professor Twenge began to notice “abrupt shifts in teen behaviors and emotional states” beginning five years ago in 2012, the year when “the proportion of Americans who owned a smartphone surpassed 50 percent.” Today in 2017, almost 75% of American teens own smartphones and have begun to use these devices as a major means through which they interact with the world. What it means to “socialize” for today’s teens is mostly mediated, technologically filtered, by their smartphones. Increasingly these days, adolescents are doing less, meeting and hanging out less, and instead spending free time in virtual spaces texting and sharing Snapchats and other social media messages. Sadly, this often means our kids typically spend hours each day “on their phone, in their room, alone and often distressed.”

kayaking children

Research results pointing to troubling psychological and social trends affecting teens are stacking up. Teens getting together with friends has dropped, as has their interest in driving a car, alcohol consumption, dating, and even sex. While these trends are helping keep kids more physically safe— less drinking and driving, and teen pregnancies, for example — they also show adolescents spending more time alone, indoors and on their phone. Research data is showing teenagers who spend hours using social media are more likely to report being unhappy, lonely, and tired (sleep-deprived).  More troubling still is the correlation between smartphone use and depression and suicide. As smartphone use has increased since 2012 among teenagers, so has the suicide rate, now reaching a 40-year high. It’s clear that with the rise of adolescents’ smartphone use, particularly with respect to social media, their behavior and attitudes, their approach to the complexities of life, their expectations and desires, their talents and ambitions, are all changing.

All girl camp kids

Bringing this back to camp, it should be obvious what Rockbrook provides: a life unfiltered by smartphone technology, one filled with the experience of real friendships, bodily inter-action, discovery and exploration of the natural world.  Being at camp means actually doing things. It means children using and stimulating all their senses, not just the narrow idealized encounters available via a screen, no matter how “smart” it is. Camp provides daily opportunities to practice being real, taking managed risks, and creating enthusiastically. Life within a caring community like Rockbrook needs no technology to enliven deeper layers of our humanity, our sense of humor, our awareness of others’ needs, and our innate ability to see beauty in the tiniest detail. For all these reasons and more, camp is a “happy place” for children.

Professor Twenge’s research and writings suggest we should limit our kid’s access to smartphones during their formative years. Kids need rich experiences, face-to-face friendships, the challenges and rewards provided by real life. Handing them a smartphone or tablet robs them of that. Ironically, this communication device isolates teenagers, significantly narrowing who they are and most likely who they will become.

Again, thank goodness for camp, a (smartphone-free) place where kids get what they need, truly enjoy themselves, and grow beautifully.

Girls Dance Group

They Need Summer Camp

If you could reform the common education of teenagers, change something about how teenagers today learn, or what they learn, what would you do? Looking around, what do you think teenagers need to understand? How do they need to change if they are to become happy, well-grounded, satisfied adults? Is there a skill, a personal value, some rule of thumb that you wish all teenagers today would adopt? Is there one crucial thing that today’s teens are missing, and as a result has placed them on a path toward trouble later in life?

You get the picture; the assumption here is that our young people are already having trouble, and aren’t measuring up to the ideal outcomes our education system, culture, and families define. It might be declining test scores, weak academic competencies (compared with children in other countries), unhealthy eating and exercise habits, poor social skills (e.g., difficulty making friends, disrespecting others), decreased creativity, or a general failure to overcome unexpected challenges. Any of these, or several, might be identified as the core problem facing our teenagers these days.

Summer Camp Teenagers

So what can we do to help? If your teen is slipping in any of these ways, how can you improve the situation, make a difference in some way? One proposal suggested, and increasingly so it seems, is to lengthen the school year. It’s claimed that organized classroom education provides the best chance to “reach” the youth and “make a difference in their lives.” As we’ve mentioned before, this is a weak, incomplete solution at best, one that fails to understand the complexities of youth development and the many dimensions it demands. It might be easy to understand and simple to measure, but extending the school calendar is not going to help our teenagers navigate their lives better. If your teen can’t make choices for herself, extra math homework isn’t going to help.

Again, what is there to do? How can we complement our current education system, augment what we already do in the classroom with learning that addresses the complete human being? What experiential gaps should we fill, opportunities should we create, models should we provide? What setting would best support these ordinarily neglected aspects of growing up?

One answer, we, and so many other youth development professionals, advocate is the benefits provided by summer camps. Camps are organized settings that encourage young people to reach beyond what they know, interact with others positively, take responsibility for their own decisions, physically engage the natural world, build self-esteem, and experience meaningful success. Summer camps are incredibly effective educational institutions, that camp parents will tell you, make a huge difference in the health and well-being of their children. Summer camps are just very good at helping children grow in these very important ways.

Yes, we should extend the education of our teenagers and children, not by lengthening the school year, but by providing greater experiential opportunities like those found at summer camps. Send your teenager to camp. That’s what you can do.

climbing teenagers

Camp Builds Teen Self Esteem

NC Teen Camp Girl

It’s not something we talk about much— mostly because it happens without any extra effort —but camp is a place where everyday you can achieve something great. You can make something, do something extra-ordinary (if ordinary is what happens at home or at school), meet some challenge, and feel good about it. For a teen girl, especially, camp proves you can do it, and you can believe in yourself.  It’s a real boost to your self-esteem. Sure things can sometimes go badly, like when you can’t quite hit the target at first, but camp is also a place where you get plenty of encouragement and support from the people around you. Particularly at Rockbrook, we’re not competing. We’re all trying new things and enjoying each other’s company, no matter what our “score.” Here too, it feels so good when you realize that these people are your friends, no matter what. Ask the teen girls that come to camp every summer, and they’ll tell you. It’s just like this.

Camp for Teens

Camp Teens Girls

Often when parents begin researching a camp for teens they have some kind of growth experience in mind, something they hope their teen will gain from his or her time at camp. Sure they want the experience to be fun, but parents also believe it will be formative too. There’s a lot to go through in your teen years, so having a place in the summer that helps is a good thing.

Some camps are explicitly designed to address these kinds of issues and provide specific activities to help teens gain “personal power,” build “self-confidence and self-esteem” and develop “deep friendships.”  Others, and Rockbrook’s teen program fits in here, emphasize creating a friendly and noncompetetive environment where teens can relax, be themselves, and try new activities.  In this kind of setting and with true encouragement and support, teens find they have hidden talents and abilities and they do grow more confident and capable.  The culture of camp, as the foundation for the excitement and fun, is the driving force for the transformation our teenagers experience and parents appreciate.

The Fun of Archery

Shooting Archery at Camp

Archery for teens and kids is still an amazingly popular thing to do at camp. Even if you’ve never held a bow before, let alone shot an arrow, it doesn’t take long to figure out the basics. And before you know it, you’ll feel really good about hitting the target, even getting a bullseye. Archery is a really old activity. Some of the oldest arrowheads found are more than 50,000 years old, for example! When you think about it, archery has been a part of probably every society to some extent. Wow! And now here it is at a summer camp for girls called Rockbrook!

Camp — A place for girls to grow

Weaver Baskets at Summer Camp

Back in 1998, Kellogg’s produced a television commercial that, quite unintentionally, reminds us why a girl’s time at summer camp can be so valuable, why it really can fuel tremendous personal growth. The commercial shows a little boy reciting a “declaration” of sorts about what children need.

“We the children need the following:
We need encouragement.
We need to laugh.
We need inspiration.
We need to be read to.
We need to have self-esteem,
Love and security,
Adventure,
Discipline and Freedom.
We need to make mistakes,
Ask questions,
To imagine.
We need to win,
And sometimes we need to lose.
We need to be hugged.
We need family, friends and even foes,
And heroes.
We need nourishment.”

It’s just amazing how camp is one of those unique places that provides almost all of these ingredients. With its wide ranging program of activities, caring staff members, traditions and overall philosophy, summer camp satisfies these needs for children. We’ve often said it at Rockbrook; “camp is a place for girls to grow.”

Here’s the commercial.

Outdoor Programs for Girls

Outdoor Girls at Summer Camp

There’s something really special about spending most of your time outdoors. When you’re a girl who goes to school all day, rides around in a car between things, and maybe lives where the weather is a little “tough” most of the time, it’s a rare thing to be outside. Because it’s so rare, it feels so liberating to have regular outdoor experience, to romp through a stream, feel a warm breeze, hear the sharp clap of thunder, get muddy 🙂 and just plain explore all the wonders of nature.

There’s a lot to say about how this time outdoors is extraordinarily good for us, but it’s perfectly fun too. Summer camp, of course, is one of the best places to find all this. It’s a place where you can recharge and balance out what we’ve been missing most of the year. Just thinking about it, makes us smile with anticipation!

Teen Camp Adventure

Outdoor adventure has been an integral part of Rockbrook Camp since it’s founding in 1921. Hiking in particular has been, and continues to be, very popular. Read this quote!

Girl Teen Camp Hiker

“I remember the week of outdoor adventure that grew into the group we warmly called the Extreme Mountain Women and the slightly less well known Kraft Krew. We did everything from kayaking the upper Green River (water fall and all) bushwacking and hiking on several extensive hikes, climbing, mountian biking and other various mountain loving sports. It is without doubt I say that the friendships formed and the things I learned about myself during that week rest firm beneath my feet as one of the strongest stones in the foundation of who I am today. Thank you. I wish every child had the chance to blossom in a place like Rockbrook. To this day I find it hard to get through “Rockbrook Camp Forever” without my heart overflowing with love and gratitude for that magical place in the woods. So I thank you.”

— a Rockbrook alumna, 1989-1999.