As veteran campers will know, CYJ-Texas has a strict no-cellphone policy. It can be one of the most challenging adjustments to camp life for children, who have to figure out what to do with their time when they can’t default to a device, and parents, who are not used to being unable to hear their child’s voice at the push of a button. In an age of constant connection it can be scary to disconnect. So why do we make the whole camp go cold-turkey and give up their electronic devices? By now you know that everything we do at CYJ-Texas has a larger purpose behind it, and our electronics policy is no different.
To start with, we do allow campers to bring digital cameras and MP3 players, so long as they don’t have access to the internet. We’ve found that this compromise strikes the perfect balance; kids can unwind to their favorite songs and capture memories to last a lifetime, but they’re still unplugged and fully experiencing all that camp has to offer. We also fully encourage connection with family and home by offering campers time to write and receive hand-written letters as part of the camp experience. We believe that the added effort of putting thoughts down onto paper makes the act of sending and receiving a letter much more special and impactful for our campers and for their families.
Children between eight and eighteen years old spend an average of seven hours each day on screens, according to the American Heart Association. And what’s the recommended number? Two hours at the most. This isn’t an issue of needing to take away a kid’s iPad, this is a function of the way we’ve set up our society. Screens are increasingly required for learning at school, for completing homework in the afternoons, and screens are also where many children go to play and unwind in the evenings. Summer camp is one of the last truly screen-free environments in our society, and it offers a rare and precious opportunity for children to unplug and reset, to connect with nature and with their own spiritual well-being. Our teenaged campers can count stars instead of counting likes on social media, and our child campers can make up their own adventures instead of watching them unfold on cartoons and in movies.
Once our campers get a taste for what it feels like to be unplugged, they learn to appreciate the value in it. They can return to the “real world” and understand why stepping away from the internet matters. Maybe they’re less resistant to turning off their devices for Shabbat and maybe not, but at least now they truly know the difference first-hand. Going screen-free is not an intuitive process for children anymore, and that’s why we make it a top priority to show the value of it to our campers every summer at CYJ-Texas.