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This summer we unwittingly performing a social experiment that provided us with some interesting results! During the first teen week we allowed campers to have their phones. The second week we didn’t allow them.  Keep in mind though, that we get very limited (most times non-existent cell connection) and we did not give out the Wi-Fi password to the students.

Our thought process the first week was recognizing that in today’s world teens use their cell phones for everything; their alarm clocks, camera’s and even their Bibles. We thought with limited access why not allow them to have their phones?  After this first week we decided it necessary to make a change for week two. This is what we learned…

During a portion of the day, teens have a time where there are optional activities.  They may choose to rest, shower, go to the camp store, hang out with their friends somewhere on camp or choose to participate in some team games and events. During the first week, we found that fewer teens participated in the optional activities being offered and instead chose to sit around in the lobby, cafe or on the porch with their ear-buds in listening to music or watching videos that they had previously downloaded. They weren’t doing anything wrong and we never saw inappropriate content. However, we did notice a decline in personal connection with those around them. Free time seemed to be a race back to technology for many of the students. This unfortunately came at the price of relationships.

One of the great benefits of camp is that it gives opportunity to meet new friends, deepen relationships, build memories and allow students to connect with caring adults. But what was found that first week was isolation.  Even though there were many times during the day for formal, planned interaction; when given the choice to interact or isolate, several of the students chose to isolate themselves through their devices.

When we recognized this was happening, we reverted to our original policy of no devices being allowed. When devices were seen they were asked to be put away. We saw a very different attitude and culture the second week. Without the distractions of the devices students once again joined in the planned optional activities. We saw groups of students truly talking to each other. We noticed that there was a far greater, wholesome and happier attitude among the teens. For the staff the difference was night and day.

So why do I share this? I share this because we were reminded that one of the greatest values that camp brings to kids and teens is the opportunity to be away. To be away from the distractions. To be freed from the “web” so that they can interact with each other face to face.

We’ve been doing some studying on the subject of children and social media.  Students and too much social media are a dangerous mix. There are many negative effects that this generation is facing due to the obsession with technology and social media. Camp is a good place to get out of that bubble and truly live. Our brief experiment, as accidental as it was, made it clear to us that Pine Brook will seek to be a place of retreat. It will be a place to allow kids to get unplugged from technology and become connected to God and others. This year as you think of summer plans for your children and teens ask yourself, “Would it be healthy and helpful for my kids to get unplugged for a little while?” Research is showing even as little as one week can make a difference in the mental health of a child!

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