Many kids power down for sum­mer camp

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - FRONT PAGE - By Leanne Italie

Amer­ica’s sum­mer camps have gone de­vice-free in a big way, and the kids don’t seem to mind.

If teens are so at­tached to their phones and all things con­nected, why do so many of them wind up in no-de­vice sum­mer camps with smiles on their faces?

Thir­teen-year-old Daniela Blu­men­feld of Scars­dale, New York, just fin­ished her fifth sum­mer at sleep­away camp with no de­vices be­yond a sim­ple iPod. “I didn’t re­ally miss my phone,” she said, es­pe­cially given camp dis­trac­tions like ba­nana boat­ing — that is, rid­ing a yel­low, ba­nana-shaped in­flat­able towed by a mo­tor­boat.

Amer­ica’s sum­mer camps have gone de­vice-free in a big way. Most sleep­away camps moved to ban per­sonal elec­tron­ics years ago, driven by the idea that campers should soak up the scenery, sports, crafts and ca­ma­raderie their par­ents are shelling out hun­dreds of dol­lars for, all in ser­vice to slower liv­ing and a rest for their still-de­vel­op­ing brains.

But the big news may be that many kids seem not to mind at all.

About 90 per­cent of the nearly 8,400 sleep­away camps counted by the Amer­i­can Camp As­so­ci­a­tion are now de­vice free, though some al­low lim­ited time with screen­less iPods and other in­ter­net-free mu­sic play­ers.

A few teen-only pro­grams pro­vide cabin Wi-Fi and will let smart­phones, lap­tops or tablets through the door so long as they’re kept in cab­ins and bunk ar­eas. Some camps pro­vide sched­uled com­puter and in­ter­net time — partly for cod­ing, app de­vel­op­ment or web­site de­sign classes built into their cur­ric­ula, and partly for lim­ited time on games such as the im­mensely pop­u­lar Fort­nite, an on­line mul­ti­player sur­vival/shoot­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

Among other things, camps don’t want to be re­spon­si­ble for loss or dam­age to pricey tech­nol­ogy brought from home, de­spite sneaky heli­copter par­ents who mail phones in care pack­ages and equally sneaky campers who stash them in their bunks.

Some­times re­verse psy­chol­ogy helps. Nigel Wat­son, camp di­rec­tor at the French Woods Sports and Arts Cen­ter, a high school-only sleep­away camp in the Catskills near New York, re­calls spend­ing his days at pre­vi­ous jobs con­fis­cat­ing smart­phones and his evenings call­ing par­ents to re­port in­frac­tions.

“If you found one, they’d have an­other. Some brought three to camp. It was al­most where I needed a full­time po­lice­man to take care of it,” he said. At French Woods, though, Wat­son lets kids use phones and other de­vices in their cab­ins, but nowhere else, so long as they power them down at lights-out.

His sur­pris­ing find­ing: The phones of­ten end up in a drawer af­ter a few days at camp. “They’re more of­ten than not just com­fort blan­kets,” Wat­son said.

Daniela’s 15-year-old sis­ter, Liat, who once spent two weeks at the French Woods pro­gram, re­ported some­thing sim­i­lar dur­ing a re­cent three-week teen tour of Thai­land.

“It was so fun,” she said of the trip. “I wasn’t crav­ing phone time. I think since I did have it I wasn’t as ob­sessed with us­ing it.” Liat con­sid­ered it a re­lief to step away from the grind of so­cial me­dia and tex­ting.

Daniela and Liat are now va­ca­tion­ing in Is­rael with their two sis­ters and par­ents. Their phone use has picked up speed, said mom Ilanit Blu­men­feld.

“I’m like, this is too much phone time while we’re on va­ca­tion,” she said. “They can only be on their phones or watch­ing TV an hour and a half when it’s day­light and at night they can go crazy.”

For other kids, de­vice-free camp also serves as a valu­able, if brief, time-out from games, so­cial me­dia and other in­creas­ingly per­sis­tent dig­i­tal dis­trac­tions. Caleb San­tana, an 11-yearold from North Baby­lon on New York’s Long Is­land, just spent a week at a sleep­away Chris­tian camp in the Penn­syl­va­nia woods. That meant no Fort­nite. Caleb, one of four kids, said it was a breeze, although a longer break might have been a prob­lem.

But he’s mak­ing up for lost time now that he’s home.

“The Fort­nite is a big deal, more than a phone,” said his mother, Dorothy Gia San­tana. “Since he got home he’s been up to 3 in the morn­ing some days play­ing.”

Caleb, how­ever, in­sists he has other plans for spend­ing the re­main­der of his sum­mer. “I want to get out and do stuff with my friends,” he said. “I won’t be play­ing Fort­nite the whole time.”

Daniela said that go­ing phone-free at camp was eas­ier since most of her friends were also away at tech-free pro­grams and not all over text and so­cial me­dia. “There’s noth­ing re­ally to see on my phone,” she said. But teens re­main teens. One of Daniela’s camp friends had smug­gled in an iPod touch — ba­si­cally an iPhone with­out a cel­lu­lar con­nec­tion that can con­nect to Wi-Fi for so­cial me­dia, FaceTime video chat and more. While the girls were on an off-cam­pus trip they found Wi-Fi and Daniela sur­prised her par­ents with a quick call. The other girls did the same, she said.

“Yeah, they were pretty sur­prised to hear from me,” she said with a laugh. “They were like, ‘How are you call­ing us?’”

GRAY WHIT­LEY — SUN JOUR­NAL VIA AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS, FILE

In this July 20, 2018, file photo, chil­dren gather at their re­spec­tive cab­ins and get ready for the day’s ac­tiv­i­ties dur­ing a four-week sum­mer camp ses­sion at Camp Sea Gull near Ara­pa­hoe, N.C. About 90 per­cent of the nearly 8,400 sleep away camps counted by the Amer­i­can Camp As­so­ci­a­tion are now de­vice free, though some al­low lim­ited time with screen­less iPods and other in­ter­net-free mu­sic play­ers.

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