Loosening the Digital Umbilical

It’s been called the longest umbilical cord in the world. That’s because the cell phone — and its related capability for texting – keeps kids and parents tethered throughout the day, unintentionally preventing children from making their own decisions and navigating their own world. Ironically, as millions across the country get ready for camp — the last bastion of an independence-fostering community for young people — the anticipated frenzy of working without a net, i.e., a cell phone, has found its way to the forefront of conversation!

Leaving the phone at home is a lot more than symbolic, especially in a world where children are more likely “in their free time to check their Facebook page than read a book,” according to English professor Mark Bauerlein, who wrote “The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupifies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future.”

It’s actually a fascinating distinction: modern technology, Bauerlein asserts, encourages children to think that they are the center of the universe. The camp community, in contrast, is centered on being a part of something bigger than oneself! The author goes on to say, “Parents must do more to pull their teens away from technology, including being role models….”
“Being off the grid may be the best thing for chill-challenged teens,” says Gary Rudman, author of gTrend Report.

ParentDish.com asks the question: “Isn’t getting outside of your comfort zone kind of the point of summer camp? It’s not just about eating s’mores and learning to paddle a canoe. It’s about growing through experiences that might initially feel uncomfortable to both teens and their parents.”

That said, I have a bold proposal: not only should campers leave their cell phones at home when they go to camp, but so should parents when they visit camp! It’s a golden opportunity for both generations to enjoy the best of what camp has to offer – time to connect with others, with nature, and with oneself.

“Big Chickens Fly the Coop” by Leslie Helakoski is a rollicking story of four chickens who venture from their cozy coop, ultimately conquering their fears and achieving their goals. The silly adventures and alliterative language provide a perfect backdrop for the positive aspects of confronting anxieties head-on.

Psychologist Chris Thurber observes, “Remember that camp is not… a breaking news story. It’s community living, away from home, in a natural, recreational setting. Nothing needs to be transmitted at the speed of light. Plus, children are exposed to electronic technology all year. It’s nice for them to have a break during the summer… Unplugging the digital umbilical promotes healthy growth and self-reliance.”

As for parents, turning off the cell phone has its well-documented benefits, not the least of which is giving parents the chance to be totally present for their children, once they enter the hallowed gates of camp. Everyone knows that this is a sanctuary, a respite from the “real world” and its accompanying demands of rapid responses. Imagine giving your child two gifts – the gift of camp AND the gift of your full attention!

That’s the real definition of wireless interpersonal networking!

Tuck-in Tips

  • Talk about a time when you really wanted to do something new but were afraid to try.
  • What do you think you could do next time in a similar situation?
  • Talk about a time when you were proud of yourself because you made a decision by yourself.