Summer Camps Struggle To Enforce Bans On Screen Time Summer sleep-away camps say it's getting harder to enforce cell phone bans, and millennials say it's tough going cold turkey. But they all say it's more important than ever to learn how to unplug.
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Summer Camps Struggle To Enforce Bans On Screen Time

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Summer Camps Struggle To Enforce Bans On Screen Time

Summer Camps Struggle To Enforce Bans On Screen Time

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Part of the experience of summer sleepaway camp is missing loved ones. And for many kids, that includes their beloved cellphones. Most camps ban them. As NPR's Tovia Smith reports, many campers and their parents are struggling to adjust.

TOVIA SMITH, BYLINE: When campers pulled up the driveway to the Cape Cod Sea Camps on opening day, they were greeted by a series of signs welcoming them and warning them.

LILY HILDRETH: Send your last snap. Like, send your last text.

SMITH: Sixteen-year-old old Lily Hildreth (ph) says going cold turkey was not easy.

HILDRETH: When we first get here you, like, tap your pockets, and you're like, what am I missing? And it's, like, all of the time.

SMITH: Fifteen-year-old Jack Riley (ph) actually got the shakes sort of.

JACK RILEY: I'd, like, think I got a text. And I'd, like, look around in my pockets. Like, where's my phone? And, like, oh, wait; I don't have my phone. I'm at camp.

STEPHEN GRAY WALLACE: It's like vibrations that aren't there.

SMITH: Resident camp director and psychologist Stephen Gray Wallace stands in front of a circle of campers in their weekly meeting where he's often counseling them through their withdrawal.

WALLACE: They say when you hear your texts come in or your - a buzz, it's addictive (laughter).

SMITH: Scientists continue to study what brain chemistry might be at work to make social media seem so irresistible. But meantime, Wallace says camps like his have been tweaking their rules, trying to find the right balance for kids who never disconnect. First the rule was phones for emergencies only on trip days. Then texts and calls were allowed on trips. But Wallace says the lure of social media proved too strong.

WALLACE: It got to the point where it was just unmanageable. We were literally sinking, you know, in this morass of disciplinary situations.

SMITH: Now kids are allowed a social media fix on trips. But at camp, they're back on the wagon, and it only took them a couple of weeks before many campers started surprising themselves.

JONAH BACKMAN: I haven't read a book in, like, five years, and I just recently started reading one. I forgot how much I loved reading.

SMITH: Sixteen-year-old Jonah Backman (ph) says he's totally detoxed.

BACKMAN: Oftentimes I'll sort of just find myself walking around, like, enjoying, like, you know - going down to the ocean, just sort of being there.

SMITH: Looking over the bluffs at the Cape Cod Bay, it's such a picture-perfect scene. Kids still fight the urge to snap and post.

AGIE CHAMLIN: This - I mean, this view - you definitely want your friends to see it. I mean how could you not want to brag about this?

SMITH: But 17-year-old Agie Chamblin (ph) says when she's not worrying about selfies, she can actually be more herself. And she's made friends she otherwise wouldn't.

CHAMLIN: Well, I think a cellphone's a virtual wall that you put up for yourself. You're on your phone, and it's, like, you don't need to communicate with this person. You just don't have to.

SMITH: Sixteen-year-old Brooke Hackel (ph) agrees. What first felt restrictive now feels liberating, and it's completely cured her FOMO, or fear of missing out, that she gets from seeing everyone else's happy posts.

BROOKE HACKEL: I feel like social media stresses me out a lot, and so not being able to have it prevents it completely. There's nothing you can worry about because it's out of your hands.

UNIDENTIFIED CAMPER #1: (Screaming) Jailbreak.

UNIDENTIFIED CAMPER #2: Yeah.

SMITH: Walking past a dodgeball game, Chamlin says it's been hardest to cut the cord with her parents.

CHAMLIN: When things happen - like, oh this person isn't being nice to me. All I want is to hear my mom's voice. But it also forces you to, like, be innovative, I guess, and figure it out.

SMITH: Sometimes Camp Director Wallace says the pushback actually comes from parents.

WALLACE: They want to be on the phone. They want to be involved. They want to be engineering an outcome.

SMITH: He's actually caught parents smuggling phones in.

JANET SHAPIRO: I have to laugh, yes. I say it with shame as well (laughter).

SMITH: Janet Shapiro (ph) from a suburb of Boston was one of those moms, but she quickly learned her lessons.

SHAPIRO: He was calling all the time - too often. I didn't want to hear from him.

SMITH: This year, she did not smuggle in a phone, but turns out her son got resourceful and did it himself. Now she's hoping he gets caught. Tovia Smith, NPR News.

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