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This is the last in a series of 4 blogs. The first two describe critical trends that have affected children in concerning ways: 1) parenting trends and 2) the pandemic. If you have not read them, I suggest that they will help you understand this blog and the previous one Building Strong Kids.

This blog is about making kids Tech Free and Happy.

Every parent knows that our kids interact with technology – especially phones and social media – more than we would like them to. We know that the tech companies are not interested in our kiddos becoming amazing people; instead they want them as customers. In the case of social media, they want them as products for their ultimate customers – advertisers.

We worry about increased levels of loneliness, depression, anxiety, and self harm. We also sense that we ourselves are too dependent on these products.

Parents have been feeling this way for years. Then two really important things happened.

First, we started to learn that our fears and suspicions were justified. Studies show extremely strong correlations between many of these products and reduced mental health. Social media is particularly challenging for teens, especially girls.

After the studies, we started to hear from people on the inside. Tristan Harris left Google and then shared how tech firms manipulate us. If you have not seen the Netflix documentary called The Social Dilemma, I strongly urge you to spend the full 90 minutes on it.

Then this summer, Frances Haugen left Facebook and revealed that the company’s own studies suggest that their products, particularly Instagram, can harm teens. She left because she could not accept the idea of doing harm to young people for profit, especially when Facebook knew they were doing that harm.

Second, the pandemic struck. At the moment that most parents were wondering “how do I encourage my child and our entire family to be less tech-dependent?”, we went to remote schooling and reduced extracurriculars. We wanted less time on computers, phones, and pads . . . and we got a lot more.

What is a parent to do?

Here is perhaps the greatest gift of camp: For 2-3 weeks, young people will not look at an electronic screen of any type and have a blast. Think about how unique that is. They will enjoy their activities, make friends, steep in community, and find joy. They will look into the eyes of others (rather than to the top of their head as they text), share hugs, and connect the way that humans are meant to.

In short, you will take away their phone, their apps, their computer and (wait for it…….) they will thank you for it.

To be clear, they will not return home and remain tech-free. But I can say the following:

  • They will generally use the tech less
  • They will have had an experience unlike other people they know – thriving without the devices. They will foster the skills that make them better friends, partners, and humans.
  • They will realize they have a power their friends do not have: the knowledge that they own their devices, not the other way around. All of us want more agency and control. With the incursion of technology into every aspect of our lives, knowing that you can, indeed, thrive without the electronic umbilical cord is empowering knowledge.

When I was 8, camp helped make me a confident, caring, and capable person. When I was 27, I decided to commit my life to helping other young people enjoy the same gifts. I saw this life as a calling.

If it was important 30 years ago, it is more important now than ever.

We will foster strength and reduce reliance on technology. Combined with friends, fun, and community, we will share happiness at camp, but the gifts will remain after the summer has ended – at home, at school, at college, and later in life.