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Unplug Your Kid this Summer
5 reasons to trade the smartphone for a Frisbee
By Klein Aleardi

Forget the smartphones, and give your kids a digital detox – with plenty of fun – at summer camp! See for yourself the many benefits of unplugging your kids.

 

1. They can breathe fresh air

The days of playing outside have been replaced with hours of video games and scrolling through Facebook while comfortably indoors. But that means kids today are missing out on the many health benefits of being in the great outdoors, says JCC Camps at Medford director Beth Segal.

“Being outside really helps develop sensory and motor skills,” she says. “That’s why almost everything we do at camp is outside. Even if they’re just doing art, they’ll sit under covered pavilions.”

In fact, the only time campers at JCC’s 12-acre campus find themselves inside is to eat lunch or take a cooking class.

Being outside also helps campers build better relationships, says Segal, especially during free play. Dealing with the social issues that may come up during a pick-up game of soccer or friendly round of tag teaches children empathy, sympathy and how to be a good listener. “When you have a face-to-face relationship, that’s where the emotion comes in and you learn how you should treat other people,” Segal says.

2. They get to dream big

Whether it’s free play or a daily program, camp lets kids of every age run away with their imaginations.

Campers at Liberty Lake can spend their days singing in Glee Club, creating sets on stage crew or even building rockets – and that’s just the change of pace they need, says Andy Pritikin, owner and director at Liberty Lake Day Camp. “Today’s children are often scheduled down to the minute by well-meaning adults looking out for their future.”

But by giving your child the chance to create something out of nothing, you’re giving them more tools than you may realize. When children spend time making their own decisions, they are on their way to becoming successful adults, says Pritikin.

“We need to make a conscious effort to buck the social norms and give our kids the freedom and tools they need to grow up to be successful adults,” he says. “Young people who aren’t allowed (or are too scared) to climb trees or fences won’t have the experience and confidence to take reasonable risks, and push themselves through challenging situations later in life.”

3. They try something new

When was the last time your child tried a new sport? Or a new vegetable? Even listened to a new kind of music? Odds are, the answer is, “It’s been a while.”

While your child may be afraid of change, Segal says camp can help soften that discomfort because it’s a place where children learn every day that just because something is different doesn’t mean it’s bad. “It’s a really wonderful experience at camp, because we encourage kids to try new things,” she says.

Kids are even encouraged to try new and different ideas. Not only do they have the opportunity to create anything they want, but they also know their projects don’t have to look or sound like what the camper next to them made. “Kids learn how to accept each other when maybe their idea is different,” Segal says.

As kids feel more comfortable being different, they learn how to express themselves and gain self-confidence. It may not be easy to “put yourself out there” – no matter what age you are – but camp experiences can help ease the stress of embracing who you are.

“Children will be able to say, ‘I created this and I showed it to my friends, and it was different from everybody else’s but I don’t have to be the same,’” says Segal. “Everybody is accepted and happy and the individuality allows them to stand out.”

4. They’ll be challenged

Stepping back from gadgets isn’t just good for some much-needed fresh air and brain exercise, it can also prepare your kids for the challenges that lie ahead. The strong dependence we’ve put on electronics can keep a child from reaching the point of self-reliance, says Pritikin.

“These finger-activated gadgets stimulate children’s brains, suppressing the ability to self-regulate their emotions,” he says. “Sadly, kids today are less able to cope with challenging situations because they lack resiliency and patience.”

By bringing your kids out of the tech slump, camp gives them the tools to navigate the challenges of life on their own, no electronic assistance needed. Throughout the day, they will choose what to do, decide what to eat and build friendships – and that will come in handy as they grow up to become independent adults.

“Camp is set up in ways that allow children to tackle real-life challenges in a safe, controlled setting,” Pritikin says. “They learn the skills to become the kind of successful adults who can make tough decisions and push themselves through challenging situations.”

5. They’ll live in the moment

Camp can teach kids to ride a bike, sing a solo or even shoot a bow and arrow. But Segal says that no matter what new skill your child might learn at camp, the most important lesson they walk away with is how to balance their use of technology.

“I don’t think we need to get rid of technology,” says Segal. “But I think we need a healthy balance, and by being outside, we’re pushing that balance.”

Taking a break from screens for a couple hours a day provides a much-needed digital detox. Segal even has a no cell phone policy for her camp staff, although she says they often find the tech break more difficult than the campers do. But in the end, everyone ends up loving the change of pace.

“It helps people learn how to be in the moment,” Segal says. “They’re focused and giving all of themselves. They get to experience camp and interactions with each other and with the environment, and they get to appreciate where they are.”

 

February 2018
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