The trauma of taking away kids’ “magic phones” at camp
I know that’s a little dramatic, but that’s how it feels watching kids hand their cell phones over to their parents when they are dropped off at camp. I think I got that “magic phone” term from the comedian Norm McDonald, (one of my favorites).
A chat with a colleague
I was talking last week with the Director of another summer camp for teenagers. They allow cell phones at camp and they advertise it. The Director was very honest in telling me that allowing phones makes it easier to get teens to come to camp.
They have restrictions around usage, and he doesn’t feel that having cell phones hurts their campers’ experience. He knows his camp and campers well and for his camp he is probably right.
I imagine that if we changed our cell phone policy it would make it a little easier to help some teens find the courage to give camp a try.
A therapist who specializes in working with teens recently told me that attending a sleepaway camp for a shy teen can feel like trying to climb a ladder that’s missing the bottom rungs. He said it may be too difficult for some.
While I’m sure he’s right, I also know that plenty of shy teens who have come to camp and in a short time were able to relax, find their tribe, and have a lot of fun.
The hero’s journey
I’m sure we could change our policy on cell phones and still have a good camp. We would set guidelines and boundaries and help campers practice using their phones responsibly. However, ultimately, I would be doing it to get more campers, and not because I think teenagers would have a better experience at camp. That’s probably not a good enough reason to change our policy.
I believe having teens let go of their phones for a few weeks at camp is really good for them. Within a few days most every camper is able to relax and connect with others in a way that is powerful and healing. I think not having their phone makes it easier for these connections to happen.
I also believe that this concept is known as FOMO, (fear of missing out), is a very real thing and that even teens with plenty of self-esteem and a lot of friends can come away from fifteen minutes on Instagram feeling as if their life does not quite measure up to others. I think it’s the nature of social media to make us feel that way.
So, we’ll keep our current cell phone policy and hope enough teens find the courage to take the hero’s journey, leave their cell phones with their parents, and come to camp. They will be surprised how little they miss that phone. In a short time, they will recognize that there is more magic to be found in being present, laughing, and spending time with new friends than there is in staring at their phone.
I’m Adam Simon. I started teen camp eighteen years ago with the vision of creating a space where teenagers would know they are safe from bullying or negative judgments and would feel free to show who they really are and to become their best selves. Let’s connect, discuss, engage…