Listing all the benefits of modern technology would be a difficult challenge. Even from the microcosm summer camp, it’s too difficult to list them all.
And, while tech has made the operation of camp easier to manage, we keep it mostly ‘hidden behind the fence.’ The most used piece of tech at most camps is a walkie-talkie rather than smart phones. Why?
Because we know it puts the brakes on connection and community.
I’ve recently enjoyed an eye-opening conversation with Michael Jacobus, the director of Reset Summer Camp, a four-week experience for young people who have developed an unhealthy relationship with technology. One item we kept coming back to are the patterns – intentional or not – that we set in our homes.
I often catch myself checking my phone or computer often through the day when I don’t need to. Not because I felt a buzz or heard a bing - I just wanted to see what, if anything, was going on. From talking with and observing families, I know this happens to others, too.
At camp, this is not much of an issue. No one looks at their walkie-talkie for a social media update. Connection happens in the forms of bunkmates, outstanding counselors, engaged group leaders, and lots of wacky fun.
Believe it or not, we can make home a lot more like camp in all of its ‘tech-less, connection rich’ splendor. You don’t need a pool or lake, counselors or group leaders, big tent events or campouts. You just need a little planning. Here are some ideas:
A few of these deserve some explanation:
Every meal at camp is eaten with your bunkmates. There is no better way to connect than by ‘breaking bread’ together. In today’s fast paced, enrichment activity and work fueled world, eat at least one meal a week together as a family. It doesn’t have to be a feast. It simply has to be together with no distractions. (More of these is certainly better!)
Once dinner is done, go do something together. Take a walk around the neighborhood, go puddle jumping, play a board game, shoot some hoops. Keep the connection going by interacting together.
At camp, we gather around the campfire every Friday night. We have two, ten minute services - a Shabbat and a Values-centered time. We then sit around the campfire, talk about one of our major values after which we celebrate the wins of the week.
You can build something like this into your week - a Sunday lunch, a Friday dinner, even a before school breakfast. The idea is to be consistent, take a moment to think about ‘bigger ideas’, and celebrate the wins.
As I mentioned earlier, technology plays a very low-visible role at camp. It can at home, too. Keep technology out of the bedrooms and away from the dinner table. Set time limits for both your children and yourself. And, use it together - learn about the games your child plays by playing with them and removing the headphones.
Special meals - crazy sock dinner, movie-star lunch, International breakfast - are a lot of fun at camp. Planned with appropriate music, menus, and costumes, doing something goofy like this at home would be hilarious and give you some fun memories.
Chores are so under-valued. Yes, I know you can clean the dishes faster and better than your child. Same with the bed being made, room picked up, garbage taken out, etc. That’s not the point. It’s imperative your child chips in to add value to your family’s home and, in so doing, learn how to cook and clean. It’s a skill and feeling everyone should enjoy.
Finally, at what is your family aiming? Camps have very clearly defined missions and communicate this idea to their staff and families often. Shouldn’t we have something similar for our own family? Regardless of your family’s aim, you’ve got to ask yourself two questions:
When asked about the mission of our family, will everyone say the same thing?
Do our daily actions get us closer to that end point?
There are lots of other ways we can reduce tech-time at home. Spend some time together coming up with ways your family can connect more face to face rather than with Facebook, Fortnite, and Snapchat. We only get our kids for a little while before they head off into the great big world. Let’s put some thought into how we spend the time together.