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A recent article by Derek Thompson highlighted two strong trends affecting teens:

  • A massive decrease in face-to-face hangout time and
  • A disturbing increase in teen mental health struggles

Susie Ma’am often tells me that I can be too wordy and I want to prove that I can be brief.

With that in mind, I share two charts, a few thoughts, and an optimistic conclusion.

Chart 1: Reduced Hangout Time

The first chart speaks for itself. It shows the percentage of teens who go out with friends. From 1975 to 2000, the rate was steady. In the last 2 decades, the number of teens who go out with friends has dropped by almost one-third. The biggest drop happened after 2012.

It is worth noting that 2012 was roughly the time when 1) over half of Americans had smartphones and 2) social media began to adopt its algorithm-based model designed to maximize time on the apps.

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Chart 2: Increased Sadness and Anxiety

The second graph suggests that all is not “OK” with young people.

In just 4 years, the percentage of high schoolers “feeling persistently sad or hopeless” went up 37% for females and 47% for males.

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A Few Thoughts

I know that “correlation is not causation”. A social scientist would point out that I cannot prove that these two graphs are related, but I see this as too important a topic to wait for definitive studies.

Also, as someone who has worked with young people for three decades, I have seen directly the effects of increased phone usage: our young people are more anxious and less joyful than ever before.

It’s clear that children need more in-person play time to thrive in the process of “growing up”.

Even if the apps themselves weren’t problematic (and they are), they would still create a harmful “substitution effect” – every hour spent looking at a screen is a substitute for an hour doing something else. More and more screen time has replaced sleep, family interactions, extracurriculars and – yes – hangout time with friends.

My Optimistic Conclusion

Here is the part that brings me hope. Your children have a gift that many of their peers do not – time at camp.

I believe that camp has always been a great place to develop confidence, independence, resilience, and compassion. But with the advent of smartphones, camp is far more relevant than ever before:

  • We are perhaps the only place a young person will be phone free for 2 weeks (20,000 minutes!) and have fun.
  • Our campers spend two weeks fully immersed in community. For 16 hours every day, they make friends, tell jokes, and share stories.
  • At camp, the substitution effect is in reverse. Every hour that was looking at a screen is now full of compassion, connection, and belonging.

They may struggle a little at first to make the transition, but the results are worth it. After the initial transition period, they will come to realize that they have powers that most young people lack.

Please share the gift of camp with your friends. Many of them think that you are crazy to “send your child away’, but they will understand your decision when you explain camp. After all, you would rather share your child with Camp Champions than Camp Instagram!

Steve Sir