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Mindful : April 2014
Most summer camps are tech-free, but at Longacre Leadership camp in Pennsyl- vania, they’re trying something different. Campers are now welcome to take all of their devices to camp—phones, tab- lets, videogame players—but there’s a catch: they can’t use them at all for the first week. Longacre Leadership used to ban electronic devices entirely but felt it wasn’t really helping in the long run. “Kids were coming to Longacre and having transformative experiences, but it wasn’t influencing their behavior when they got home,” says Longacre’s director, Matt Smith. “Yes, they had more self-confidence, more social grace, but they went right back to old habits with their games or social media after ward.” Smith and his colleagues thought giving campers a shor t break from digital devices, then allowing technol- ogy back, would help the kids reflect on their relationship with their devices. “This is the first genera- tion to really wrestle with the effects this technology has on their behavior,” Smith says. “It occurred to us as we were trying to design this program that the solution needs to Camped Out, Plugged In Watch a Longacre Leadership video at mindful.org/ summercamps come from them. It’s not going to come from you and me and parents who are trying to set rules for them.” When they got their gadgets back after their week-long abstinence, some of the teenagers were excited, but many had some trepidation about having their hands on the devices again. They were wor- ried about spoiling their grow- ing connection with nature, with each other, and with their overall camp experience. It didn’t take them long to strike a healthier balance. The campers formed an ad hoc technology council, a forum where they could discuss with each other and counselors how they felt about being without, then regaining, access to their phones and games. “By the end of the summer it was almost a non-issue,” Smith says. “They’d worked it out. They would chasten each other for tex ting during a conversation, so you didn’t see much of that.” Longacre will continue the new tech policy this summer. ● Campers at Longacre start with a break from their digital devices. now PHOTOGRAPHBYMATTHEWSMITH 14 mindful April 2014