Cellphones at Camp: Yes, No, or Maybe So?

Smiling boy using mobile phone. Male is holding wireless technology.
Getty Images/DigitalVision/Morsa Images

Campers have a lot of opinions when it comes to technology: Why TikTok is better than Vine, which filter is best on Instagram, and what the best apps are. Parents have opinions, too, on whether that screen will mush brains, how they need to reach their child 24/7, and on their child’s independence.

All these thoughts can either implode or wash away with one simple rule: No cellphones at camp. It’s a policy more camps have begun to take on, as children at younger and younger ages have more access to the technology.

There can be pros and cons to cellphones at camp. In a study by Michigan Medicine in Science Daily May 8, 2018, interviewees described how cellphones could be used for educational opportunities at camp. But many interviewees also responded that campers participated less in the activities if they had a cellphone.

At Tizmoret Shoshana, a Jewish girl’s music camp based out of Baltimore and run in New York, all technology is banned.

“Art requires a lot of presence, and the ability for children to concentrate has gone downhill with the age of cellphones,” said Mark Singer, founder and director of the music camp.

The camp does allow exceptions. One camper who is a composer is allowed to bring her composition software, and another camper who is blind is allowed to use a braille laptop under supervision.

The YMCA’s Camp Conrad Weiser in Pennsylvania also prohibits screens. Camp should be a place where outside distractions are not possible, Director Cory Evans said, where relationships are made, and where independence and social skills are cultivated. Screens are prohibited even for emergencies, Evans said, as campers can relay inaccurate or incomplete information to home.

Another no-screens camp is Beth Tfiloh Camps in Reisterstown.

“It’s real simple: It interrupts the daily routine,” Director Sam Bloom said. “Anytime the phone rings or somebody texts you, you automatically look at it.” Even younger children now have phones, he said.

Two children in paddleboats on a lake.
Beth Tfiloh campers put down their phones and enjoy the
paddleboats. Photo by Kohn Creative, courtesy of BT Camps.

Other camps are somewhat more lenient. At Camp Shoresh, a Jewish day camp run from Baltimore, campers can carry cellphones but not use them during regular camp hours.

“We believe that being at camp is an opportunity for your child to experience a world beyond home. This allows children to develop autonomy, independence, and a stronger sense of self,” Director Rabbi Dave Finkelstein said in a letter to parents to explain their cellphone policy.

The Tennis Institute in Baltimore has a similar policy. “Yes, but not on the court,” Executive Director Lenny Scheuermann said.

For camps that do restrict screen and phone use, it’s not always a popular move.

“Definitely some girls feel like they can’t live without their phones. This is a way for them to learn they have a life without their phone,” Singer laughed, “and can develop their talents deeper. It makes them much calmer. They’re able to focus on the instructor and interact more.”

Parents, too, have mixed responses, though they are usually against cellphone use. Sometimes, Singer said, parents care more about cellphones than campers: “We had one parent who was calling and said she missed her daughter, and we said usually it’s the other way around.”

Evans said a family once had their child sneak a cellphone into camp. The son was put in the same cabin as a homesick child, whose mother wanted him to become more independent at the camp. “The first [kid let] the second use his cellphone to try and get his mom to pick him up,” which ruined the mother’s goal. Evans explained that the parents need to be able to trust the camp to make necessary calls.

Bloom similarly said that parents should trust the camp.

“When it comes to parents looking to communicate with their kids, it’s a different issue,” Bloom said. “Camp is a place where kids can have an experience outside of their home, similar to sports and school.”

Since his arrival, Bloom said, BT Camps is more communicative with parents. For example, it takes candid photos of the campers and frequently posts on Facebook, Instagram, and emails parents in a more unbiased and professional manner than the child would.

“Campers and parents agree that they get so much more out of the camp experience when the campers are fully present,” said Talia Rodwin, assistant director at Habonim Dror Camp Moshava. “Campers express that camp is a welcome break from the stress of social media and a time to be with friends in a genuine way.”

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