Unplugging the Cord When Teens and Kids Go to Camp

This guest post is by Candy Cohn, assistant director of Maine Arts Camp, a non-competitive overnight camp for 8-15 year olds who want to unleash their creativity.

I can’t say I have many childhood memories of phone conversations with my parents. I vaguely remember calling them from a friend’s house to see if I could stay for dinner, or if they could pick me up later than originally planned because I was having so much fun. When I was a teenager, I remember searching for a dime or maybe a quarter to call my parents from a pay phone at the mall to tell them what time I’d be home. In college, I can picture myself standing in the hallway of my dorm floor calling my parents from a shared phone maybe once or twice a week.

The one phone call I remember clearly, though, was when I went to overnight camp. It was just a one-week gymnastics camp, and I was about 13 or 14 years old. I was having an amazing time, but as soon as I called home and heard my mother’s voice, I had to choke back the tears as I described all the excitement of camp. My words clearly didn’t match my emotions, so she probably thought I wasn’t being honest with her about enjoying camp.

Now that I run an overnight camp, that memory resonates with me every time I try to reassure parents about our phone call policy. I explain that both their child and they will actually benefit from not being able to talk to each other on the phone for the two weeks of our short camp sessions. Yes, it’s true: we don’t allow campers to call home, we don’t allow cell phones, and campers don’t have computer access at camp. A blast from the past!

This is not about being secretive, mind you. Parents can call our camp and talk to me or to our director to find out how their child is doing. We’ll even have one of the child’s counselors call the parent back to give more details if needed. This is about tasting independence and savoring it for a short while.

Campers can come to Maine Arts Camp for 2 to 5 weeks. If they stay longer than 2 weeks, they do get to call home after each 2-week interval. By then, they’re usually in a pretty good routine and the phone call doesn’t throw off their emotional kilter. We know this from experience with campers and not just my teenage memory. You see, we used to allow campers to call home halfway through each 2-week session. If a child was homesick, they usually cried their eyes out as expected. The surprising thing was that many campers who were doing fine before the phone call, were all shaken up by the end of it. Our wake-up call came from our counselors. “What are you doing to us?” they said as they pulled out yet another box of tissues and spent another night consoling campers.

Imagine what happens when kids don’t have cell phones to call and text parents or friends with every move they make, can’t use a computer except maybe in a robotics class, and can’t tune out the world with headphones plugged into one of the many electronic devices entertaining kids and teens everywhere. What happens? They make friends! They learn how to look one another in the eye and talk and laugh and cry together. They learn how to read social cues, which is something many kids struggle with. They learn to solve their own problems, sometimes with the guidance of a camp counselor or a friend. They sit around a campfire and sing corny songs that will remind them of their camp friends forever.

At Maine Arts Camp, we have high quality instruction in over 60 activities (all elective), many with a creative focus. On the day parents come to pick up their kids we do a final showcase with dance, acting and musical performances, a professional looking gallery exhibiting campers’ artwork, photography and videography shows, and more. As proud as we are to show the parents all the wonderful skills the campers learned in their activities, we tell parents this is just scratching the surface. We invite them to enjoy the hidden treasures of camp as their child continues to blossom and grow socially at home.

Camp has always been about friendships and independence, but in this day and age where technology is king and meaningful socialization sometimes takes a back seat, camp is more critical than ever. It’s important for parents to give their children a chance to experience some good old-fashioned fun and some confidence boosting independence. You’ll all survive not talking to each other on the phone for a bit. And just think how many interesting stories you’ll be able to share in person when your child comes home as a happy camper.

This guest post is by Candy Cohn, assistant director of Maine Arts Camp, a non-competitive overnight camp for 8-15 year olds who want to unleash their creativity.


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