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When Phones Came to My Camp

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Read Time: 3 minutes

Readers — We are working to create a list of camps (day camps and overnight) that do not allow phones. If you know of any, please write the camp name/city/state in the comments here, or send it to to us at [email protected]. Meantime, read this story about a camp that gradually allowed phones. The author asked us not to use her name because she still loves her camp — but her heart is sore.

At first, phones were simply banned.

Dear Let Grow:

I worked in New England at an all girls camp for years, as well as going there as a camper myself. Our camp and most of the camps that were similar did not allow phone use. Counselors confiscated phones we found and returned them at the end of summer/session.

At my camp, counselors initially were not allowed to have phones in the cabins (rustic, 1920s wood cabins with no electricity) ever. Phones were to stay in our staff room lockers/cubbies or just charging up there. But over the years, those rules changed.

Then, exceptions were made…

Some people blatantly just started bringing their phones to their cabins and using them around campers. Eventually counselors were allowed to bring phones to provide music during special activities, or to take pictures with/of our campers. We were not allowed to post pictures with campers’ faces in them. 

Once phones became prevalent on the cabin line amongst counselors, it changed the dynamic of camp. Campers wanted to hang out more with the counselors who played music or did fun videos or selfie scavenger hunts. It influenced what activities campers wanted to do, and the peace and quiet of the pines was gone. Additionally, because there was basically no cell service at camp (weak wifi in the staff rooms only) counselors spent more time up in the staff room on their phones rather than interacting with the girls.

Sometimes this was all right–I had some of my most formative experiences as a camper when the counselors weren’t around and we could talk about taboo topics or do moderately risky things without fear of repercussions.

The phones changed the counselors as much as the campers.

But often, as the summer dragged on and counselors became burned out, the campers were left alone too much and missed out on developing strong relationships with good, young, female role models. 

As a counselor, I rarely played music in my cabin (13 year old girls typically are not fans of ’70s rock), but I did occasionally take pictures. It was fun but not necessary and honestly it removed me from the real counselor experience.

We think so much about how important camp is for young kids’ development, but it’s equally important for the development of young adults. I was a counselor from ages 17-22, a hugely important time in my life. I credit the counselor experience for being so important in how I approach my work now (Capitol Hill staffer) and how I approach my life in general. 

Hope this helps! 

LET GROW HERE: It does. It provides a real-world look at how phones, like water, seep in wherever there’s a crack. They can damage the foundation of an experience by taking the NOW and the PERSONAL and turning it into something else — something for public consumption.

Whether or not you want to keep phones out of kids’ lives completely, a phone sanctuary is a good idea –a time or place where phones are far away, and life unfolds in all its ephemeral glory.

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Comments

  1. DavaDava says:

    Van Buren Youth Camp, in Bloomingdale. Michigan is very old-school and traditional and does not allow phones or electronics of any kind. Campers have to sign an agreement saying that they won’t bring anything of the sort. https://vbyc.org/

  2. LauraLaura says:

    Camp Killooleet in Hancock, VT. No devices allowed at all and they wouldn’t get cell reception even if a kid had one. 7.5 week summer camp in the mountains of Vermont. Heaven! https://www.killooleet.com/

  3. KristinKristin says:

    My kids have gone to Camp Kupugani for a couple years and technology is strictly banned. It’s an amazing multicultural overnight camp:
    Camp Kupugani
    Leaf River, Illinois
    https://campkupugani.com/

  4. KimberleyKimberley says:

    And Camp Chrysalis. http://www.campchrysalis.com/

  5. ChristinaChristina says:

    Piedmont Wildlife Center
    Schoolhouse of Wonder
    Durham/Wake Counties – Raleigh Triangle area, NC

  6. DorianDorian says:

    Camp Takodah, an overnight camp in Richmond, NH, stands strong in their no phones policy. https://www.camptakodah.org/

  7. HilaryHilary says:

    Highly recommend MathPath for 11-14 year olds who love math; phones are only permitted for a phone call home each evening, otherwise kept with the counselors. https://www.mathpath.org/

  8. DomDom says:

    Not entirely related, but an entire town in Ireland has got together and effectively banned phones for children until they get to secondary school (i.e. when they reach 12 years of age)
    https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2023/jun/03/much-easier-to-say-no-irish-town-unites-in-smartphone-ban-for-young-children

  9. MelissaMelissa says:

    Strong River Farm and Camp – sleep away camp – no electronics allowed. No instagram or social media posts by counselors or staff of what kids are doing through the week. We drop off our kids and pre written letters for them (campers write letters to parents as well) and pick the kids up 7 days later. No phone calls or email – and no electronics. We’ve been 5 years and counting and the boys love it.

  10. DaveDave says:

    Camp Tockwogh in Worton, MD. https://ymcacamptockwogh.org/

  11. AbbyAbby says:

    Brown Ledge Camp, Colchester, Vermont- I’m the Director! Not only do we not allow cell phones, our program was built to foster independence. We have a freedom of choice program, and staff do not live with our campers (they mentor them, but do not monitor their every move). Our philosophy deeply resonates with the Let Grow movement. https://brownledge.org/

  12. JennJenn says:

    The whole point of camp is to unplug and be with nature, explore and work with others. Staring at phone screens is just going to spoil the experience and allow you to cheat on finding the answers.
    Very good job for banning phones at camps! Kids need to learn how to unplug. Letters are awesome too!

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