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Children in the Digital World: Pros and Cons

A few day’s ago I submitted my contract to spend another summer at Camp Onaway, a summer camp for girls in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire where each summer ninety girls and twenty counselors trade email and texting for handwritten letters, internet shopping for the camp store, and iPods for camp songs that have been sung since 1911 when the camp started.

“The Onaway girls arrive in June looking like standard twenty-first-century kids—individuals, of course, but all bearing the same objects of modern America. Once arrived, though, we relinquish cell phones, tuck away street clothes, say goodbye to the Internet, and, most importantly, leave behind the petty competitions over looks, possessions, and status that plague our real-world lives. In the resulting void we plant friendship, community, and frank discussion of honor, values, and character. Rejecting the trappings of modern life, at least for the summer, allows us to embrace a different ethos.” Reflects counselor Isabel Ruane in an article she wrote for Harvard Magazine.

This is camp in a nutshell. Miss Ruane, or Miss Is as she is called at camp, spoke truthfully when she wrote about a void being filled by these larger values and traditions of honor and respect. In my own experience when the girls first get to camp it is very difficult to keep their attention, many of them can hardly sit still to receive instruction about a game we are going to play, or to do a craft project. Yet, they are also afraid to get into the lake, or they complain about playing tennis in the sun. Each year I am floored by the fact that the girls can’t sit still when I’ve seen other girls their age sit for hours at the computer. My impression is that the girls simply don’t have the attention span at the beginning of the summer to just do one thing for a one-hour activity period because they are so used to the immediacy of the Internet and multitasking on their computers.

Camp is a place to bring it down a notch. While we are busy each day from dawn until dusk, I never feel like I am missing out on anything in the real world while I am there. It always fascinates me how many of the girls will complain that they don’t receive letters from their friends at home, but how many of them keep in contact with friends from camp once they leave for the summer. I believe this is because of the type of connection we make at camp. In ‘the real world’ girls often connect with their friends about things like fashion trends or movies, and while this definitely occurs at camp too, they also connect with each other surrounding much bigger issues.

At the beginning of each summer we make decisions as a camp regarding certain ethics. We call it, “The Honor Talk” and in it Mrs. Conolly, our camp director, sits all ninety girls down and talks to them about respect and friendship, and what a privilege it is for them to come to camp. These values are reflected in traditions we take part in every day. For example, we have traditions surrounding cleanliness, manners, and respect, which girls are rewarded for both throughout, and at the end of camp.

I feel like an advertisement for Onaway right now, but there is honesty in the tangible values of camp and the fact that it produces friends that truly last a lifetime. I have to believe that when girls leave camp that they can use the technology to which they have grown so attached; to promote the values they have learned at camp; to help each other, to stay in touch with true friends, and to help their communities.

This brings me to some of the advantages children today have growing up with technology. We live in a world where technology and the Internet are so ingrained in our culture that children surpass adults in their technological ability. The Internet, and other technologies for that matter, can be a great asset if used effectively. The goal is to find the balance of which I have spoken before. I know in many of my previous posts it may seem like I condemn the Internet and its users, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. The Internet is an incredibly valuable resource and, frankly, a part of our culture that isn’t going anywhere. The most important thing to do with it regarding children is to teach them how to use it effectively. An article in The Atlanticexplains,

“It is important that students not be conditioned to think of social media only as an escape to drown out other necessary tasks, but as something that might be integrated thoughtfully into life. This sort of skill is not just important in school. Even on the job, the most valuable employees will be those who know how to balance focused work and social interaction even when both collide on the device in front of them.”

What is truly necessary are lessons in time management that incorporate Internet and technology use, separating it from some tasks and integrating it effectively into others. This will teach children that there is a right and wrong time to use technology, and that it can, and should, serve a larger purpose than as a distraction. It also gives them the opportunity to combat some of the negative effects researchers say could be caused by too much exposure to technology at too young an age, including basic offline social skills. Though Camp Onaway is a lengthier break from technology, it provides campers with core values that we as counselors hope they will take away from camp both on and offline.

A Video About Camp Onaway

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#1 POSTED BY Rachel Michelle Glicksberg, 04/09 8:40 PM

This is a great post! It strongly resonated with me as I went to camp for years and some of my best friends I made there. 

I think the idea of attention span is really it is difficult to keep kids attention during instructions or outdoor play yet they are able to stay at the computer for hours. I agree that tucking away technology is conductive to learning different kinds of values. I think if technology was allowed at camp it would be a very different environment. I'm not sure I would have made such close, lasting friendships if it had been allowed.

Are all sleep away camps tech free? It would be really interesting to compare and contrast different kinds of camps.

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