Camp Is Essential in an Age of Screens

Tom Rosenberg, President/CEO
November 2020

Camp has never been a more critical part of Generation-Z’s year-round learning landscape and core social and emotional development. Just prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Pew Research Center surveyed parents across the United States about the impact of technology on their children and parenting. The results will not be surprising to camp professionals and other educators.

According to the survey, a majority (67 percent) of current parents said parenting is harder today, and many blame technology and social media. Parents also reported that technology gives their children greater exposure to violence and drugs while they struggle to adequately supervise their kids’ use of technology with both parents working to manage the increasing costs of raising a family. Nearly 75 percent of parents surveyed worried that excessive use of smartphones would impair their children’s ability to develop healthy friendships and their long-term development (Auxier, Anderson, Perrin, & Turner, 2020).

At the same time that Pew was conducting this research in early March 2020, a new meta-analysis was published in the medical journal JAMA Pediatrics finding that more overall time on screens each day, regardless of the quality, is linked to lower language development (Madigan, McArthur, & Anhorn, 2020). Additionally, a long-term, ongoing study of preadolescents from the National Institutes of Health revealed that those children who spend hours of screen time a day across phones, tablets, and video games had lower cognitive skills, particularly in translating two-dimensional to three-dimensional objects (Cooper, 2018).

All these reports are concerning, but during the pandemic parents have had little choice but to accept tremendous increases in screen time use by their children and teens to allow for schooling, gaming, virtual friendships, and community. Indeed, kids have often been isolated from their peers, staring at four walls, feeling increasingly isolated, and swimming in a sea of screens. 

Parents are more eager than ever for safe, joyous, and inspiring in-person social and emotional learning opportunities for their kids. There is no doubt in any of our minds that Generation Z will eventually emerge from the pandemic with an insatiable appetite for in-person social experiences and a renewed appreciation for in-person learning, both in school and in out-of-school programs. Over the fall, many camp professionals have shared anecdotally how eager and hopeful their camp parents, staff, and campers are for a return to camp in summer 2021.

This fall, ACA has been busy convening research to understand the granular details of the effects of COVID-19 on camp operations, program pivots, staffing, program quality, and outcomes, as well as evaluating the efficacy of the mitigation recommendations for COVID-19 presented in the Field Guide. We are also engaging research on family perspectives on camp and the impacts of COVID-19 on summer planning in 2020. Furthermore, with ACA’s leadership, Environmental Health and Engineering (EH&E), along with other experts, is harvesting all the learning from the field-wide research study on COVID-19 and camp operations and publishing the research in cooperation with the CDC and others. With your help and advocacy, these results will be shared widely with county and state public health officers to ensure they have the most accurate and relevant data in hand as they develop day and overnight camp rules and guidance for localities across the country. The Field Guide and related webinars will continue to be updated to reflect the best practices and latest information on operating day and overnight camps during COVID-19. The health and safety of every camper and staff member is our utmost concern, and as camp professionals we understand how critical camp experiences are for children. As we all head toward the new year with cautious optimism, please know that ACA is here to support you as we all work to help America’s youth find within themselves what writer and philosopher Albert Camus called “an invincible summer.”

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