Cell phone-free zone a reality at NJ summer camp
It can be frustrating for parents to see their kids' faces stuck in their cell phones instead of enjoying the summertime sunshine. So one Burlington County camp has now established a cell phone-free zone — not just for campers, but for counselors as well.
The Liberty Lake Day Camp owner and operator Andy Pritikin say, the cell phone-free zone was established because he felt camp should be like a step back in time.
He wants kids to experience life the way adults did when they were kids — going outside to play in nature, dealing with the ins and outs of relationships and social skills. He said the screens are an impediment.
"We call it like a detox, a digital detox, and most parents understand this. Most parents get it because they themselves grew up, not digital natives. They grew up in a world where people actually spoke to each other, face-to-face," Pritikin said.
Pritikin said parents don't want to fight with their kids about screen time because they're working and busy. He said kids only communicate through text, email, Snapchat and Instagram. They have trouble with face-to-face contact.
But he says once they get to camp and give up their phones, they're actually okay with it.
Kids turn to their screens because they're bored, Pritikin said. But at camp, they are constantly busy.
"We're taking kids who are 99 percent indoor kids and making 99 percent outdoor kids," Pritikin said.
So if a camper can't have a cell phone, how does the camper get in touch with his or her parents?
"You go to the office, just like people did for the last 100 years, and use a telephone. It's no big deal," Pritikin said.
It's only fair that if campers can't have cell phones, neither can the counselors. Pritikin said if a counselor is caught with a phone, he or she gets a warning. The second time, the counselor is dismissed.
If a child is caught with a phone, the parents get a call. The second time, the parent has to come and pick up and the cell phone. The third time, which has never happened, the child is dismissed from camp.
Pritikin said the cell phone-free policy is great for kids, but also for the parents. In the 21st Century, he said, cell phones have made parents nuttier than they need to be, giving them more anxiety.
The cell phone-free policy has been catching on to other camps around New Jersey, Pritikin said.
"The American Camp Association is pushing, that camp should be technology-free zones. The inmates don't run the asylum and we can call the shots here," he said.
Pritikin said he's been giving other camps letters that he's written to parents, and the tools on how to implement a cell phone-free zone. He said he even sent a staff member undercover to another camp to use a cell phone at orientation — just so the camp director could fire the "counselor" in front of everyone, proving the camp was serious about the policy.
And, Pritikin said — it worked.