After watching this Nature Valley video with our Champions team [note: we remain indifferent to your granola bar of choice], I noticed three things. First, Kate Hutson (our director of New Families) cleared a tear from her eye. Second, Susie Ma’am smiled and reminisced. “We made forts just like she described when I was a girl.” Finally, Greg Golf (the boys director) commented that it made him so happy that he went to camp and that he can serve children through camp. We all agreed entirely. While clearly an advertisement, it hit a nerve with us.
The video is simple. It asks members of families the same question, “when you were a kid, what did you do for fun?” For each family, we hear from grandparents, parents and current children. The grandparents and parents answer similarly, mentioning adventures outside with friends. The children all talk exclusively about their mobile devices, citing both video games and social applications.
One young girl explains that she “would die without her tablet.” A particularly articulate 12 or 13 year old boy declared that “whenever I feel upset, I play videos games and I feel normal. Its really wonderful.”
As I have said in the past, we citizens of the 21stCentury are uniquely blessed to live in a world where technology serves us in so many ways. We live longer, have staggering entertainment options and enjoy unequalled productivity.
But I firmly believe we are simply consuming too much technology. Like food, technology is critical to us, but we must consume it in moderation and make sure it is good for us. When it comes to our children – frankly, to all of us these days – we are simply consuming too much.
Americans (especially people 12-20) report record levels of anxiety, loneliness, depression, self-harm and even suicide. The technologies that promised to bring us together have separated us. Rather than feeling a breeze in our face, the sun on our backs or the hug of a friend, we exchanged texts, Snapchats, tweets, DMs and emails while staying indoors and looking at screens.
We all know that connecting with nature improves health and mental well-being (even reducing Attention Deficit Disorder). We also know that we need to connect directly with other people. We are meant to interact face-to-face, arm-in-arm, eye-to-eye. With the screen between us, we lose something. It is almost like being connected, just like a Twinkie is almost like food.
Knowing this, our team embraces camp like we never have before. We see it as a mission. We may be the first place that a child learns the beauty of nature – the starry skies and the shady trees. But we might also be one of the only places where “fun” requires no battery or device beyond a ball, a canoe or a fishing pole.
When people think about camp, they rightly think about fun. But camp is much more. Our children need to be outside. They need to have genuine in-person friendships. They need to literally laugh out loud and not just type LOL. Camp provides all of this.