Cell Phones and Technology

Can My Child Bring his/her iPhone to Camp?

The Killooleet community strives to be a screen-free community for campers, staff and families, for many reasons. We ask campers not to bring cell phones, iPads, Kindles or other tablets, game devices, laptops, or other digital devices, and we confiscate these to be returned at the end of camp. We make an exception for digital music players, but ask that all other applications and functions be disabled. Cameras that aren’t connected to a network are okay.

Our community is stronger, and our campers healthier, when we focus our attention on the actual living people who are with us here at camp. When we interact face to face with each other, we develop and practice essential skills that are not available on line: sustaining attention, reading non-verbal signals, direct communication with emotional intimacy and openness. We send, and receive, the message that these relationships are important, and worthy of attention. We learn to deal directly with each other even when things might be difficult. We also learn to be more aware of ourselves and our own resources for addressing the things that happen in our lives. Both community and personal independence benefit from disconnecting ourselves from the constant interruption of digital feeds. Campers, and families, have enough opportunity to explore the digital world outside of camp. We are all here together for only a limited time, and we need to make the most of it. As part of this effort to maintain a safe community, we have a media policy for the rest of the year as well.

When our campers and their families voted to bar gaming devices and other screens from camp a decade ago, they made these same points: screens take us away from each other, and become just a source of tension and conflict. And current research is catching up with them. Catherine Steiner-Adair, author of The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age, notes that parents complain that digital devices take their children’s attention away from family matters — and that children say the same thing about their parents’ addictions to their phones and tablets. She notes that an increasing array of health concerns, from sleep deprivation to behavioral disorders, are now being linked to higher exposure to electronic stimuli. The full brain engages for speech only when it is face to face, not when it is on skype.

Another concern is equity. At camp we strive to be a community in which people are valued for themselves and what they can offer to the group. This is why there is no money at camp (and a part of why we limit parental food supplies: candy becomes currency). Dueling digital platforms become a way of re-introducing and emphasizing socio-economic difference at the expense of community.

We do make an exception for digital music devices. Why? Music is such a central part of the Killooleet experience that it is difficult to imagine camp without it. Alumni remember the words to their favorite songs even decades after they were a camper. While we are still singing some of those same songs, other songs come and go. Staff and campers bring their favorite songs and dances to camp, and share them: at sings, in talent shows, in clubs, or just hanging out together. Our community is stronger and more inclusive because the musical fabric is woven by everyone. And in today’s world, digital media are the way that children have access to their music. It is so much easier to learn all the words to a song, or to teach it to the music counselor, if we can play it for each other. In our balancing of what contributes to our community, we feel that music is less disruptive to individual and group health (no visual stimuli) and can be shared more readily with everyone.

Camps are some of the last cell phone free places in the world. At camp, children hop on their bicycles and meet friends at the Main House or an activity, rather than texting them. They make plans for rehearsing a song or practicing their pitching at recall. The bell, rather than the clock on our phone, helps us keep track of time. After a couple of days of adjustment, campers and staff talk about enjoying the relaxation and freedom of not always having to respond to a text or call. Parents find that the media loving children they sent to camp want to get back on line when they return home, (partially to talk about missing camp with their camp friends), yet also have more perspective and balance in their lives. They have developed resilience and inner resources, to say nothing of new skills and hobbies, which reduce the need to measure themselves by outside valuation and stimulation. And when they visit, parents get to go cell phone free themselves, at least while they are at camp, and experience a new kind of relaxing vacation. Combined with the smell of the pines and the chance to dip your toes into the lake, it helps you experience the “magic” of camp.