Cell phones have become essential tools at summer camps while also managing to become the bane of camp owners' existence. It has never been easier to manage staff, get in touch with vendors, contact emergency services or order that last minute pizza for a special camp treat. At the same time, cell phones in campers' hands intrude on the real goal of camp which is for kids to leave their home bubble, be themselves and enjoy the outdoors.
We stumbled upon this article which dives into some research regarding camper cell phone use. You do not need a PhD in child psychology, though, to know that phones are seriously impacting the camp experience.
When I was a summer camper in the 90's there were no cell phones. We said bye to our parents and friends and shipped off for a month or more with only some paper and envelopes to stay in touch. I have so many amazing memories from those summers and I fully believe that if I had been tethered to home by my cell phone camp would not have been the important life experience that it was for me. I still remember walking from cabin to cabin during move-in day to meet all of the new campers and see who came back from previous summers. Instead of laying in bed on my phone I immersed myself in the camp program and made the most of every second I was there.
As a camp counselor in '04 and '05 we had flip phones (still no smart phones) but service was severely limited. If we stood on a specific rock near the cabins on a clear day we were sometimes lucky enough to be able to place a call. For the most part our phones stayed in our cars and were soon forgotten. That allowed us to live the camp life as 18/19/20 year olds. It was so ridiculously silly but endlessly refreshing to go to sleep at 9PM with our campers, wake up at 7AM, have all of our meals made for us, play outside all day and repeat for ten weeks. Being in the camp bubble insulated us from world events and outside drama and let us be us for just a few more summers.
For the past ten years I have been a camp director and camp owner and cell phones have fully infiltrated summer camp. At the previous camp I ran we banned phones but crafty parents and campers would smuggle one or two back up devices for when the primary devices were confiscated. It was a constant battle that a bunch of 13 year old kids were winning. When I started my own camp I decided to take a more laid-back approach. Phones would be allowed during 'down-time' after meals and before bed but never during the day when campers should be engaged in activities. Over the years the 'down-time' definition expanded and I soon faced nightmare scenarios of walking into common areas and seeing 18 campers staring at their phones. We decided after last season to implement a phone-check system so if a camper wants his/her phone at camp they have to leave it with us in the office to be used only during designated times during the week of camp.
I know that we are fighting a losing battle against cell phones but I hope that by limiting their use this summer that campers will possibly get the same kind of experience I had when I was their age.