Let’s cut to it.  Everyone has a cell phone.  Everyone.  Grandmothers have cell phones.  Grandkids have cell phones.  Everyone has a cell phone.  Are we clear?

Now let’s talk about summer camp.  Like your child’s school administrators, your summer camp leadership has debated the place of cell phones in their program every season for the last 10 years.  In 2004, 45% of young people 12-17 had cell phones.  By 2008 it had climbed to 71% (http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2009/14–Teens-and-Mobile-Phones-Data-Memo.aspx).  You can bet it has continued to rise the last 2 years.  So, do they belong in summer camp?

Your camp director doesn’t think so.  Neither do I.  And I’ll bet, if you think about, you don’t either. 

A few months ago I ran a poll on LinkedIn asking people what they hoped their child would gain from a summer experience.  Let me share the results with you:

  • 47% of respondents hoped a child would gain Independence
  • 30% of respondents hoped a child would gain Self-Esteem
  • 15% hoped the camper made New Friends
  • 5% of respondents hoped a child gained New Skills or learned Traditional Values

If the majority of parents want their children to gain Independence, Self-Esteem, and New Friends from a summer camp experience, does a cell phone help or hinder that process?  In my estimation, cell phones in camp prevent these goals. 

Let’s start with Independence.  If you send your child to a week of camp (or a day of camp) with a cell phone, you are preventing your child from developing independence.  I dare you to disagree with me.  For those of you keeping score, point 1 in this debate goes to the anti-cell team. 

If you are hoping your child develops Self-Esteem, does the cell phone help?  Honestly, I can’t imagine how a cell helps.  I can picture scenarios in which a cell phone is used to bully another child.  Imagine one camper sending negative texts about another camper to friends.  Imagine a bully taking a picture of another child in the bathroom, at the pool, or in another compromising position – and then sending it out to My Space, Facebook, or to their friends as a text.  You can’t argue that these scenarios would negatively impact the self-esteem of a camper.  Point 2 goes to the anti-cell contingent.

Now we can consider Making Friends.  If a camper is spending her day texting existing friends rather than making new ones, the child is not getting everything out of the experience she could.  Point 3 goes against cell phones, too.

Over the past 10 years, I have heard a handful of parents argue for their child to carry a cell.  Know this, in every case the cell phone was for the parent – not the child.  If we expect a week of summer camp to help a child develop independence, self-esteem, and new friends, we have to give them the room to take those steps on their own.

But don’t fret.  Most camp professionals understand a parent’s need to check-in on their children.  As camp professionals, we will go and check on your child when you call the office for an update.  We’ll talk to you every day if need be.  Many overnight camps allow parents to send emails to their children in addition to traditional snail mail.  Camp photos and videos are provided through most camp websites.  Some camps have live web cams so you can see day-to-day activities at camp. 

My Advice:  If you have concerns about staying connected to your camper this summer, talk to your summer camp before the first day of camp.  Learn their policies on communication between parents and campers.  Don’t be afraid to ask for a compromise on that policy.  If the camp’s communication policy is a deal breaker for your family, it’s better that you know it now.  Good Luck!

We’ll see you at Camp!


Be sure to visit Nathan’s camp, The South Mountain YMCA Camps, at www.smymca.org.