Why we need summer camp more than ever

Devotions at the lake at Lake Forest Ranch, Macon, MS

Screens and digital devices are not inherently evil, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to observe that the overuse of them can lead to unhealthy effects – especially for children and youth.

The Mayo Clinic points out that the overuse of screens for young people can lead to such negative outcomes as “obesity, irregular sleep, behavioral problems, impaired academic performance, violence, and less time for play.” (Source)

Furthermore, screens and social media provide a type of stimulation that Pediatrician Michael Rich calls “impoverished.” Here is how Debra Bradley Ruder from Harvard Medical School puts it….

“Much of what happens on screen provides ‘impoverished’ stimulation of the developing brain compared to reality, [Michael Rich] says. Children need a diverse menu of online and offline experiences, including the chance to let their minds wander.”
-Debra Bradley Ruder, Harvard Medical School (Source)

That is why, I believe, summer camp can be such a powerful place for today’s young people. Camp provides an environment where kids are provided quite a “diverse menu” of almost exclusively offline experiences (if not, completely).

According to Christian Camp researcher Jacob Sorenson, summer camp “is one of the last places in existence where young people set aside their mobile devices for more than a few hours at a time” (Sacred Playgrounds, pp. 76-77). Sorenson found in his research that though it might be a challenge at first for some youth to “de-screen” for a time, the campers themselves report that they are glad to put away the screens at camp:

“Campers will readily admit that if they were at home, they would be on their phones, tablets, or gaming systems. But they see the value of having a respite, and they appreciate simple things like people looking them in the eyes.”
-Jacob Sorenson, Sacred Playgrounds, p. 77

I will be heading out to my first of many weeks of summer camp this weekend, as I have for 15 years. And I am convinced now more than ever of the irreplaceable value such an experience provides for young people, much due to the powerful grip that technology and social media have on the physical and mental health of our youth today. I think we all agree that they (and us adults too) could use a week or two outdoors, spending time in-person with friends and growing in their faith journey with God.

Please keep me in your prayers this summer, that I might serve faithfully in ways that benefit the campers, my camp hosts, and all the camp staff. Pray also for my family, as we will be apart for some of the camps. But thankfully we have a chance to be together for some of the camps as well.

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Dr. Jesse Joyner travels nationwide as a speaker and entertainer. His primary role is that of a performing juggler spreading joy and the love of learning to family and kids events. H earned his PhD in Educational Studies at Trinity International University (Deerfield, IL). He enjoys playing the piano, bird watching, and old houses. He lives in Richmond, VA with his wife, Sarah, and their three kids - the perfect number for juggling children.