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Hangups about camp

Rustic getaways intended for relaxation a stressful disconnect for some kids

Camps that forbid the use of cell phones, Internet and iPods are often a difficult adjustment for youngsters and parents. (File Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
Camps that forbid the use of cell phones, Internet and iPods are often a difficult adjustment for youngsters and parents. (File Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
Megan K. Scott Associated Press

Tim Chai keeps in touch with friends through Facebook, listens to music on his iPod and never goes anywhere without his BlackBerry.

So when the 17-year-old was looking for a summer camp, he ruled out a church camp with a no cell phone, no computer policy.

“I just thought it was too much for me to handle,” said Chai, of Carmel, Ind. “I love my Internet. I love my phone. I’m not ashamed to say it.”

For a generation used to texting, Facebook and YouTube, going away to sleepaway camp can be a bit unnerving. Many outdoor camps don’t allow cell phones, laptops or iPods, and there is no computer lab.

Many campers are “a little panicked” to part with their cell phones, said Tony Sparber, founder of New Image Camps, with locations in Florida and Pennsylvania. Some try to smuggle them in or bring more than one phone in case one is confiscated, he said.

Even parents who are used to having constant access to their kids can experience anxiety.

Kimberley Fink, 40, of Weston, Mass., is a little nervous about her 14-year-old daughter, who is going away to camp for the first time. The camp lasts two weeks and her daughter won’t be able to call.

“It makes me slightly uneasy,” said Fink. “I will probably be one of the mothers who calls the camp office after a couple of days to check in. Sometimes you just need that reassurance.”

Experts agree that unplugging is a great idea. But it will be a “shock to the system” for those who are digitally dependent, says Anastasia Goodstein, author of “Totally Wired: What Teens and Tweens Are Really Doing Online.”

Sean Hakim, 16, struggled to give up his gadgets for two weeks when he went to Antiochian Village Camp in Pennsylvania. The camp does not allow cell phones or iPods, and campers have no computer access.

“At first, it was scary,” admits Hakim, of River Vale, N.J. But he said, “once you get there, you realize you don’t really need it. You are always with people, doing something.”

Plugged-in teens are under tremendous pressure to maintain “Brand Me” on Facebook and other social networking sites, said Gary Rudman, author of the upcoming 2009 gTrend Report, which focuses on teens and technology. Without a cell phone or online access, it’s like they are invisible.

And while teens will inevitably make friends at camp, 10 friends in your bunk is not the same as hundreds on Facebook, he said.

“The dilemma for camps is that if they do allow technology, the kids will likely plug in and tune out,” said Rudman. “That would defeat the purpose of camp.”

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