If you're a parent of a child who is on their way to sleep-away camp this summer, you've probably been stressing out over the never-ending rush to get them packed before they get picked up at a bus depot somewhere along the eastern seaboard. While I always do things down to the wire, I'm now gearing up for the final phase of summer camp preparedness: The gadget hand off.
The tech detox conversation started three weeks prior to lift off. In fact, this weekend over dinner, my daughter joked about how she planned to smuggle her iPhone into camp this year. Unfortunately for her, those plans were squashed by yours truly. You see, a few months ago, her camp sent out a letter of agreement that campers needed to sign prior to leaving that pretty much vows that they will not bring their phones, mp3 players, Gameboys or anything else that resembles an electronic device with them to camp. In fact, if they are found with any technological contraband, that could be grounds for sending them home early. Unbeknownst to my daughter, she signed that document a few weeks back when I handed her a pen and said "Here. Sign this," which she did without ever reading the document.
According to Lauren Kasnett, co-founder of Summer 365, a free, year-round summer camp resource for parents nationwide, these days, camps are instituting hard core technology bans so that kids can truly unplug and get back to basics. "One of the best parts about sleep-away camp is the social interaction kids have with one another," she says. Kasnett says that as gadgets have become more pervasive in the lives of our kids, the electronics policies at camps have continued to evolve and become more stringent. As a result, these days, most camps do not allow electronics or devices with wifi capabilities -- but there are still a few camps that do allow handheld video games. Thankfully, my kids' camp is not one of them.
Instead, for the next four and seven weeks, it's time for them to go back to basics. Read a book. Play sports. Have a Scrabble or checkers match or master jacks. Talk to your friends. Or, pull a prank on your camp counselor. OK, maybe not that, but wouldn't it be a wonderful world if we could all unplug for two whole months?
I can only imagine what my life would be like without having my phone crazy-glued to my side every day of the week. No more spam messages and sales updates from places I don't even remember subscribing to. No more Facebook status updates from friends, relatives, distant relatives and strangers who somehow have become my friends too. No more tweets or Instagram photos. Just real conversations with real people in real time. What a concept.
Cutting our kids off from technology is the least we can do for them. From the time they are toddlers, they have been connected to the Internet and year after year, it seems that many are becoming more and more detached from society. Some lose themselves in violent video games. Others Snapchat for hours on end or share silly six-second Vines with one another. They Instagram all day long, watch YouTube videos, binge watch their favorite shows on Netflix and on and on and on. It truly is time for a technology detox and I am thrilled that the camp my kids are attending are enforcing a "no tech" policy this summer. Sure, it will be hard to part with their devices, but it will also be refreshing to have my kids experience life as it used to be.
Maybe it's time that we all start living in the moment. Take a tech break for a day, a week or even a month if you can. Remove the Facebook app from your phone and see how much time it buys you back from wasting needless hours checking for likes on a photo that you recently uploaded (come on, you know you do it). Set an out of office message on your email so people know not to contact you over the weekend or during your vacation. Or leave your phone at home when you go out for a walk. Pretend you're a camper, sign an agreement to part with your gadgets so that you can be more present in your family's life and watch what happens. You never know, you might be pleasantly surprised when you start hearing buzzing and chirping sounds from out your window and not from your smartphone!