Camp Woodland Blog

The Device Dilemma

Posted by on August 1, 2023

In a few short days, the summer of 2023 will come to a (screeching!) halt. Parents, caregivers, siblings, friends, and possibly a pet or two will descend on our 6-week Northwoods “bubble”. With that brings many decisions to make regarding the re-entry of your camper into the world of home, school, activities, friends, etc. There are also some decisions to consider about coming back into the world of technology. It’s not something to take lightly…there is a golden opportunity to do things differently and set the tone for the year ahead. 

For six weeks your camper/s have been navigating the world without one single device. They have not been distracted by dings, rings and buzzes. No one has been checking to see how many likes, favorites, views, or other social media tally has been racked up to give a temporary/false sense of popularity. Not a single person has been privy to what events or gatherings they might have missed because there were conflicting obligations or there was an intentional (and devastating) non-invitation. 

The next few days are the perfect time to consider and discuss the options and consequences before handing over your camper’s smartphone, tablet, or other device. I recognize that for some campers, long-distance or international travel is involved in the journey home, thus there is a need to be able to communicate with them during their bus ride and/or flight back. I would still like to challenge you to think about and come up with a plan for once everyone is back home safely.

What prompted me to even think about this is a Growing Leaders blog I recently read about an interesting trend among kids today. I discovered there is a growing population of young people who have had enough of being glued to screens. They are looking for and needing/craving something more. Something their phones and devices can’t provide. This is the main reason the Luddite Club was founded by a high schooler in Brooklyn, NY, and why its members assemble in-person on Sunday afternoons on the steps of the Central Library on Grand Army Plaza. 

The tie that binds this group is that they decided at some point to put their “smart phone” away for good and use a flip phone or no phone at all. The “push” in many instances for this unexpected turn originated by parental insistence that the mobile device be taken away for a period of time as a necessary consequence. After the initial shock of being without their communication lifeline, the teens realized that they were better off not being tethered to something that turned them into a version of themselves they didn’t recognize or even like anymore. 

A current parent and longtime Woodland camper/staff member emailed me after reading the “Addition Through Subtraction” blog that was posted last week. This alum shared she appreciated that her kids return from camp having mentally slowed down to a healthy speed. “As a family, we take advantage as we roll straight from camp (by way of the washing machine) into a vacation at the beach where we all slow down, and we all love it. Three hours spent on a board game? No problem. Two hours reading a book? Great! Crazy slow mini golf? I double dog dare you.” This post-camp family time is intentionally sans devices.

She further states that, “My mom told me recently that my dad’s late life mobility issues were an unexpected gift, because she realized that she now looked up when she walked slowly to match his reduced pace, and she observed so much that she had been missing for years.” Great words to live by! I have that found that looking at my phone while trying to walk our dogs or do something else is robbing precious time from being present in the beauty of where I am at that moment. I can’t get those seconds or minutes of seeing the sun break the horizon, a heron flying overhead with a fish in its mouth, or the exposed beach at low tide back if I choose to have my head down and eyes peeled to a small piece of rectangular glass. 

Is this an easy ask? Heck no! Are the short term struggles worth the long term benefits? I believe so. 100%. Otherwise, I would not be writing this! Here are a few ideas to consider as a starting point for helping your child/ren become more aware of the impact their device is having on them and the benefits of scaling back on device time if not forgoing it altogether in the months ahead. Maybe a pros/cons list is in order now that they are coming off almost 45 days without one!

  1. Share stories of kids their age who are taking a break.

There are even examples of campers in our own community delaying possession of their devices following their 6 week camp experience. In fact, one such CIT gave her phone back to her mom before jumping in the car to go home last summer. She knew she wasn’t ready to be immersed into the social pressures of what it means being “online” 24/7 and the mind-numbing feeling of being lost in endless scrolling. 

  1. Curate dinner table or other opportunities for meaningful discussions.

Your camper is used to sitting with their cabin group for three meals every day having real, in-depth conversations about what is experienced and learned while everyone goes in different directions during activity periods. Sharing ups and downs, successes and failures, along with stories and past experiences from home is normalized when sitting around a table or in a circle at cookout or picnic multiple times a day. Dreams, hopes and goals are also being shared during meals or other random times of checking-in throughout the day with cabinmates and other camp friends. This has been a regular part of the fabric of every single day at camp for your daughter/s since they arrived on June 24. I would venture to say on the low side that 5-6 hours a day on average is spent in these organic interactions! 

  1. Plan device-free days or times.

If going cold turkey with time spent on devices is too much or not realistic for your household situation, consider starting with times of the day (meals, homework time, etc) or certain days (Saturday, Sunday, or days during a holiday break) that are device-free. Having this conversation and together coming up with your family plan will help create buy-in from your camper/s. 

4. What now?!

Last time I checked, stamps are still available at your local post office or other customer service counter. Campers will have address lists of our community in their memory folders and can connect with camp friends using “snail mail”. Rounding up some fun stationery, pens, stickers and other items can make letter-writing a more desirable means of communication. Instill “rest hour” at home when possible and encourage this type of activity (another camp routine). You can plan on hearing from us about once a month with photos, newsletters, and camp news that will keep the spirit of being “unplugged” alive throughout the year. 

We wish you a great school year and look forward to when we can all come together at Camp Woodland for another 6-weeks of being device-free!