The camp smartphone conundrum
Why you must cut that umbilical cord
I’ve been thinking about camp and iPhones. Obviously there’s been a lot of news about how bad our beloved devices are for us and how addicted we are to them. And the scariest part of this is how iPhone addiction negatively affects children. It now seems indisputable that Facebook and its ilk are designed by smart people to be addictive, and that growing up glued to an iPhone reduces attention span and is linked to depression and social anxiety. And that’s not even the hard part. The hard part for parents is knowing that and yet not being able to effectively limit screen time.
Because all the kids are doing it. It’s like my daughter, TV and nori. I used to put nori in her lunch because it was a healthy snack. She liked nori but couldn’t bring herself to eat it at school because it was a weird food (then) and the other kids made fun of her for it. It didn’t help that when they were talking about TV shows (all the time) she had nothing to say because we raised our kids without TV.
Which made me feel righteous, made them readers and caused social isolation. Not so good.
Imagine trying to raise the only kid in the class without screens. It’s tricky because kids have to function in the herd, and we know what the herd is doing. It’s mostly online.
Which brings me back to camp.
Suddenly it seems that a screen-free summer is the compelling reason to send children to camp. Simply because there’s no other opportunity for them to go cold turkey and discover that not only does life go on without your iPhone, it can be more vivid. You can get closer with your friends when they’re not all texting in the same room. You see things like stars … sunset … the lake sparkling … kids acting silly … together. And you see them for real, not on Instagram.
If I had any doubts about this, the two-phone trick makes me know for sure. Camp directors joke about this, but really we should be crying. For kids. All the camps I know are experiencing increasing numbers of kids bringing two iPhones to camp. They all know that camp doesn’t allow phones, so they take the SIM card out of their current phone and hand in the phone to the office for the summer. They put the SIM card in their old phone and use the phone when counsellors aren’t around.
Should I really be getting my shorts in a knot about this? Are you?
Only if you believe the increasing evidence of the pernicious effects of constant online activity. If you don’t think it’s fake news, then creating a summer’s worth of haven from screens is important.
Which means that suddenly camps have become important for a whole new reason — and unfortunately a complicated one. Because it’s hard for some of us as parents to buy into camps’ no-cell policy. Because for all of us — and I include myself here — we need contact with our kids. Mine are grown up and I still need it.
So giving them a cell (or two) to take to camp feeds into our own need for contact with them and also our fears (which we all have) that nobody can take as good care of my child as I can, so I’d better give them a way to get ahold of me if they need me. This raises the thorny issue of trust. Because of course the unstated upside of iPhones is their umbilical aspect: Our kids are never out of contact. We like that. It’s hard for us to give it up.
And give it up we must, if we are to trust them, and the people we’ve hired to take care of them, in order to give our kids the respite they so badly need from 24/7 devices. Parenting columnist Joanne Kates is an expert educator in the areas of conflict mediation, self-esteem and anti-bullying, and she is the director of Camp Arowhon in Algonquin Park.
Sometimes those kiddies need to be left to their own devices (sans actual devices)