When you wake up in the morning, what do you do right away? When you fall asleep at night, what are you doing before you fall asleep? When you are sitting in a parking lot waiting for a practice, rehearsal, or class to be over, what are you doing? If you are watching TV and a commercial comes on, what do you do? For many of us, the answer to one – or all – of these questions is… you are on your cell phone / iPad or other device. No judgment – this is the world we live in. Our Smartphones and iPads keep us connected, help us map out directions, house our calendars, allow us to order food, book hotels, look at photos, listen to music, and even use apps for fitness, meditation, and sleep. There are roughly 6.92 billion smartphone users across the world. That’s 86.29% of the global population, as of 2023. The average American spends around 4 hours and 37 minutes daily on their smartphone, which is above the global average of 4 hours. This usage varies by generation, with Gen Z spending the most time on their devices, averaging about 9 hours per day. Millennials follow closely, averaging around 3.7 hours daily, while Gen X and Baby Boomers spend less time overall. Americans check their phones on average 96 times per day, or once every ten minutes. Picking your phone up becomes a habit as data shows that half of all screen time sessions begin within 3 minutes of the last. Experts found that heavy smartphone use can cause changes in your brain. Every scroll or swipe sends a hit of dopamine to the same areas of your brain that respond to addictive and dangerous drugs like cocaine.

Just a few more stats:

  • 74% of Americans feel uneasy leaving their phone at home.
  • 71% of say they check their phones within the first 10 minutes of waking up.
  • 53% say that they have never gone more than 24 hours without their cell phone.
  • 47% consider themselves “addicted” to their phones
  • 70% check their phones within five minutes of receiving a notification.
  • 64% use their phone on the toilet.
  • 61% have texted someone in the same room as them
  • 48% of people say they feel a sense of panic or anxiety when their cell phone battery goes below 20%.
  • 45% say that their phone is their most valuable possession.

Yes, smart phones and iPads are very pervasive in all of our lives. In many ways, smart phones and iPads are the modern day “security blanket” or pacifier that we use to occupy our mind, distract our thoughts, numb our feelings, and allow us to think we are connecting and staying in the know, while really, we are retreating into a self-involved screen “security blanket.” And as adults, that is our prerogative.

Now, let’s talk about children and teens. The average teenager spends around 7 hours and 22 minutes on their phone per day, and kids 8 to 12 years old spend about 4.5 hours per day. For many, phones have become an emotional crutch. There’s lots of research that suggests that social media is bad for the average teenager, raising anxiety and low self-esteem in those who regularly use it. Our children and teens have grown up with devices, the first iPod coming out in 2001, and the first iPhone in 2007. They don’t know life before cell phones—they never used payphones or had to print out a map to drive somewhere. Having access to this technology all of their lives, on a twenty-four-hour basis, has caused them to develop a dependency on their devices. Using technology excites them, it literally rewards them with serotonin – the chemical in the brain that helps you feel happy – whenever they complete a task in a video game or get a text from a friend. Here is a fun fact for children, teens, and adults…. When your body knows it’s time for sleep, your brain releases a chemical called melatonin to help you relax and drift off. Staring at a phone right before bed keeps your brain alert and active and delays that melatonin release and disrupts your sleep cycles. Lack of sleep over a long period of time can affect your mood and health.

Children and teens use their phone for so much more than just communication. It is literally the way they socialize, learn, communicate, and find information. Without their smartphone or devices, children and teens can at times experience anxiety that can alter their behavior and mood. Just like us adults, children and teens often use their smart phones or devices as a “security blanket” to help them calm, regulate emotion, feel connected, and create a sense of self, as opposed to practicing the life skills they need to do that for themselves, IRL (In Real Life). Clinical psychologist Lisa Damour, Ph.D., Parents advisor and author of Under Pressure: Confronting the Epidemic of Stress and Anxiety in Girls, advises parents to underscore the importance of children and teens not needing to depend on any outside force (be it a drug, another person, a phone) to feel calm or emotionally secure. Dr Damour says, “If a teenager is unable to take steps toward operating independently of his or her phone, I would have the parent offer to help the young person build his or her emotional regulation skills or find a professional who can help the teenager to do so.”

Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist and author, has discussed the impacts of screen time on children and teens in the context of his research on psychology, morality, and social behavior. Haidt has emphasized the importance of balance and moderation in many aspects of life, including technology use. He has expressed concerns about excessive screen time and its potential effects on children and teens’ mental health, social development, and overall well-being. Excessive screen time can potentially lead to issues such as:

1.     Social isolation: Spending too much time on screens may reduce face-to-face social interactions, which are important for developing social skills and emotional intelligence.

2.     Negative impact on mental health: Excessive screen time, particularly on social media platforms, can contribute to feelings of loneliness, anxiety, and depression, especially among adolescents who may be more susceptible to the pressures of online social dynamics.

3.     Reduced physical activity: Excessive screen time can lead to a sedentary lifestyle, which is associated with various health risks such as obesity and poor cardiovascular health.

In the book, “The Anxious Generation,” Jonathan Haidt investigates the dramatic rise in mental health issues among adolescents that began in the early 2010s. He attributes this surge to a phenomenon he calls the “Great Rewiring of Childhood,” which involves two major shifts: the decline of “play-based childhood” and the rise of “phone-based childhood.”

1.     Play-Based Childhood Decline: Beginning in the 1980s and accelerating through the 1990s, children had less access to unsupervised outdoor play. This overprotection, driven by safety concerns amplified by 24/7 news, led to kids being deprived of crucial opportunities for growth through exploration, friendship-building, and risk-taking.

2.     Phone-Based Childhood Rise: The adoption of smartphones and social media platforms significantly increased during the early 2010s. Adolescents shifted their social lives online, which resulted in heightened anxiety, depression, sleep deprivation, and social comparison.

3.     Impact on Girls and Boys: Haidt discusses the distinct harms of this new environment on boys and girls. Girls tend to suffer more due to social media’s pressures, while boys often retreat into video games, reducing real-world interactions.

4.     Spiritual Degradation: Haidt examines how phone-based lives contribute to a decline in personal growth and community engagement.

5.     Solutions: Haidt proposes four key rules for parents, schools, and governments to mitigate these effects. He advocates for more play, delaying smartphone access until high school, and collectively working to delay the age for social media use to at least 16 years old.

Enter Camp Echo Lake…

We all know that among the many benefits of camp is the all-important experience that children and teens are SCREEN FREE! No smart phones, no iPads, no social media, not text chains, nothing! Children and teens get to truly connect with other people, build social skills, learn skills in activities, build independence, enjoy nature, have a ton of fun, and grow into the best versions of themselves – IRL (In Real Life)! There is a saying that “At Camp, there is no WiFi, but you will never have better connections anywhere else!” Part of the reason for that is there are no devices or screens. Now, as we said, that is all fantastic, but what we really want to talk to you about is helping your children and teens begin a gradual Digital Detox we like to call, “Disconnect to Reconnect.”

As we all know we have levels of habit, addiction, FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out), and the conditioning of using our screens as “security blankets.” What we need to help children and teens do is find other ways to self-sooth, fall asleep, manage boredom, sit with their feelings, and have fun – NOT ON A SMARTPHONE / IPAD / VIDEO GAME / TV / ETC…. This is important for kids to be able to do in order to be at their best mental health and grow into healthy adults. It also helps children and teens begin to adjust to camp – where they have no devices or screens. Imagine going cold turkey. Try it. Put your device away. Completely out of sight. How long can you go without touching it or looking at it or checking it? Ten minutes? An hour? A full work or school day? 24 hours? What about your children and teens? How long can they go without their device? Our children and teens are lucky that they GET to be off devices and screens at camp this summer but helping them create moments of Digital Detox so they can “Disconnect to Reconnect” is important to practice and get used to! Here are some ideas…

Tips for Children & Teens to Digital Detox – Disconnect to Reconnect at Camp

  • Declutter Device: Delete apps, games, pictures, etc… that you don’t use or need. Only have essentials on your phone and make sure the apps, games, pictures are healthy, happy, positive ones.
  • Out of sight so it can be out of mind: Set up a schedule where everyday devices are put away (out of sight) for a bit of time each day. Start with ten minutes. The next day try twenty minutes, then thirty minutes, etc… See how long you can be device free. Children and Teens will not have their devices at camp so slowly stepping away from them in the weeks before camp will make that transition easier.
  • Spend time in Nature: Schedule time each day to be outside without your phone. Go for a walk. Play in the yard. Sit on the porch. No devices allowed. Notice the world around you. Get outside. Go for a walk. Move your body. Plant flowers. Ride a bike. Watch the sunset. Lay in a hammock.
  • Device-Free Dinners: Make it a family rule – for kids AND parents – that phones are not taken out at the dinner table. Talk to each other. Ask open ended questions about everyone’s day. Enjoy the meal. No phones at the table.
  • Turn off Notifications: Just like Pavlov’s dogs, we are all trained to respond and react when we hear the notifications ding / ring / beep / chime on our phone. Turn them off. Turn off your sound. Go to settings and turn off notifications altogether. Place your phone screen down. Look at the device when you want to, not because you get a notification.
  • Create device-free zones or activities: Maybe it’s in the car or the dinner table or during homework or while watching a TV show, but designate device-free times or locations. Be present in those times or locations. You can start with commercials. While watching a TV show, put your phone or device out of reach and when the commercials come on, talk to each other, take deep breaths, or even watch the commercials, but stay off the phone.
  • Create New Traditions and Rituals: Use incentives such as: When we go get ice cream, we don’t look at phones. When we are watching a sporting event, we don’t look at phones. When we go as a family on a road trip, we only use phones for music – and we rotate who gets to pick a song to play. Make not being on a device something fun. Camp certainly will be.
  • Bedtime Boundaries: As we know, it is not good for our brains to look at screens at / before / during bedtime. It messes us up. Try to leave your phone out of the bedroom. Try to leave your phone screen down overnight. Try not to sit in bed waiting to fall asleep, while on your phone. Children and teens will not have that security blanket of their devices at bedtime or wake up at camp so help them practice what it feels like to go to bed or wake up early and not be on a device.
  • Lists of Fun Things to Do at Downtimes (Bedtime, before wake up, Rest Hour, etc..): Take out paper or a notebook, literally make a list with your child of all the things that they can do if their body is not ready to fall asleep, if they wake up before the rest of the bunk, during rest hour. Don’t pick up your phone when you wake up. Practice not having your phone and try out some other fun things to do in downtime. Ideas can include – but are not limited to: Read a book. Listen to music. Listen to an audio book. Listen to a meditation or calm breathing story. Write a letter. Write in a journal. Draw or color with pencils, pens, crayons, markers. Put a bunch of random Legos in a zip lock bag and play with Legos. Create. Build something. Make a string bracelet. Make a Rainbow Loom. Make a bead bracelet. Play a card game with a deck of cards (teach them solitaire) or Uno or Spot It. Do Mad Libs. Complete a Rubix cube or another puzzle. Play with a Fidget toy. Clip, buff, or paint your nails. Play Top Trumps or Magic the Gathering or Pokeman. Play Jax. Write a letter to family or friends. Do a crossword puzzle or sudoku in a book. Read a magazine. Meditate. Breathe. Write stories or poems. Read a book of riddles or jokes. Do a puzzle. Look at Sports Cards or Stickers. Listen to an audio book and picture the story in your head like it was a movie. Listen to the soundtrack from a movie or Broadway Show and image the story or sing along. Do square / box / belly breathing. Individually squeeze and release each muscle in your body from your toes to your head, letting go of any tension or worry and picture the happiest scene you can think of instead. Create a calendar to bring to camp and each night write in the box for that day, one special thing that happened. Create a Positive List. Pull out a notebook and make a list of all the happy / positive / fun things (big or small!) that happened that day. Look back at the lists over time. Your brain will begin to look for the positives too!
  • Positive Parent and Self Talk: Say these to your children and teens. Write them down for your children and teens. Have your children and teens say these out loud to you and to themselves. Remind your children and teens that you love them AND you want them to have the best time at camp. Remind your children and teens that you selected a great camp that is going to take care of you and make sure you have a fantastic summer. Remind your children and teens that you know there are adults at camp that are there for them if they need something and they should talk to the trusted adults. Remind your children and teens that you know that they can do this and they will love camp. Remind your children and teens that they can miss you AND love camp and that you will miss them AND you want them to love camp. Remind your children and teens that they have the strength and power to make this the best summer ever.
  • And so much more… please share your ideas with us!

Helping your children and teens to Digital Detox – Disconnect to Reconnect at Camp is so important. It will help their transition and adjustment to camp be that much smoother because they are not relying on their devices to self-sooth. Practicing falling asleep, waking up, distracting your mind, creating fun, without any devices will help children and teens start to develop these skills at home so they are prepared for these moments at camp. Not to mention they will have less exposure to some of the harmful experiences with smartphones and devices. It will allow them to be more present and in the moment. It will allow them to feel their feelings, acknowledge them, and be ok. Maybe they will want to spend some extra time talking to you. You never know. 😉

And, while we know the intention of the Digital Detox – Disconnect to Reconnect at Camp is truly beneficial for our children and teens, let’s be honest, we adults could benefit from it too. Why don’t we lead by example or make this a family activity, and all do a little Digital Detox – Disconnect to Reconnect together?! Who knows? Maybe, just like at camp, having no wifi or device will lead to the best connections.

Warm and Fuzzy Hugs,

Laurie and Tony