For the past 20 years, Dock and I have enthusiastically endorsed summer camp as a great growth experience for children. Every year we become more passionate about the benefits.
At times, we wondered if we might be overstating our case.
We are now convinced that we have been understating both the power and the importance of the camp experience. Why? Because of technology.
This initially may not make sense. How does attending a camp devoid of technology help a child succeed in a world defined by it?
Our basic theory is the following:
1. Technology has transformed the world we live in: markets are global, workplaces are constantly evolving and technology itself is perpetually changing.
2. This new world requires a certain set of skills in order to succeed in it.
3. Ironically, immersion in technology is impeding the development of the very skills needed for success.
Let’s begin with the skills needed for success. This 2012 Millennial Branding and Experience Survey of 225 companies shows the skills most in demand by employers:
This data dovetails nicely with data from the Partnership for 21st Century Skills which has surveyed over 2000 organizations and come up with the skill sets they believe to be most needed for 21st Century Success:
1. Oral communication
2. Collaboration / teamwork
3. Work ethic/self-discipline
4. Written communication
5. Critical thinking/problem solving
Communication and collaboration top both lists and are interpersonal skills. Children develop these skills the way they develop athletic or academic skills—through practice. Learning to persuade another person or organize a group of people happens through experimentation and repetition, just like a good tennis forehand or playing a Mozart piano sonata.
Interpersonal skills are developed face-to-face, not on Facebook, not by playing video games, and not by texting.
It is scary because our teens are becoming addicted to technology and social media. Consider these two facts:
• Research by the Kaiser Family Foundation, finds that the average American teen spends 53 hours per week interacting with an electronic screen. Where does this time come from? Kids are generally studying as much as our generation did and playing the same amount of organized sports. However, they are interacting with peers less and playing outside much less. Simply put, the vast majority of these “technology” hours are taking away the time kids used to “practice” interpersonal skills.
• Pew Research and the Neilson Company discovered that the average teen sends 3,339 text per month while spending 95 minutes a day doing so.
If, as our two research studies convincingly argue, interpersonal skills are the key to success in the modern workplace, then these trends are deeply concerning. When our children should be strengthening their communication, collaboration and leadership skills (another skill in huge deficit), they are instead turning to their phones, I-pads, and computers.
In short, time spent immersed in technology is depriving our kids of the very skills needed to succeed in a technological world.
The summer camp experience is almost the perfect environment to combat this technology-driven communication breakdown. In his new book “Homesick and Happy”, New York Times bestselling author Michael Thompson notes that campers send no texts, play no video games and watch no TV. “In the space created [by the absence of technology], flows a bunch of old-fashioned human behaviors: eye-to-eye contact, physical affection, spontaneous running and jumping or simple wandering.” Oddly, these are the activities that cultivate the skills children need in a wired world.
Camp is about connection, community, and communication. We collaborate and address challenges creatively.
Summer camp is the only experience we are aware of where children and teens will gladly give up their phones for days or weeks at a time and still enjoy themselves. In fact, we frequently hear from teenagers that they welcome a holiday from the demands of social media. When they return home, they will pick up their phones again, but we see three important differences in our campers compared to other children. First, they tend to use electronics less. They have lived life separated from the electronic umbilical cord and loved it. Second, they know they can be spectacular without these devices. They have something big in their life called camp that remains a reference point of fun and friends. Finally, they have become more effective communicators, better friends and more skilled leaders than their peers who stayed home. Every year, we hear a litany of campers saying that “I am not sure what happened, but I found that I was the captain/drum major/leader” of my organization. They go on to attend great colleges. College placement for Adventure Treks students often exceeds that of the most elite college prep schools.
This generation may never be as good as their grandparents at interpersonal interactions. Of course, they are significantly more skilled in technology than their grandparents. Yet it is these interpersonal skills that are most important and are most in deficit. Our children do not necessarily have to be as good as their grandparents, but if we want them to be primed for success in their relationships and careers they need to develop strong interpersonal skills.
We know of no better place than Camp where children will gladly leave electronics behind and embrace face to face communication! So while your child is rafting, hiking, swimming or just hanging out, know they are also improving skills that are now much harder to develop at home!
We can’t wait for Camp Pinnacle to open and our campers to arrive!
Steve Baskin, Executive Director
John Dockendorf, Executive Director
Ben Lea, Director
Cait Mates, Associate Director