Why Game Camp is Not a Good Choice for Summer

Give your child the gift of time away from their screens and outdoor memories they will never forget.

May is here and that means summer camp season is just around the corner. I lately  have seen an influx of summer camp brochures in my mailbox with their slick glossy covers and promises to provide the most amazing experience for your child. Last week I received one about an overnight game camp that only included one hour of outside activities for their “balanced time.” Could it really be true that someone thinks this is a good idea?

Summer camps are great, they allow your child to have fun, socialize with others, shoot a bow and arrow, and jump in the lake. None of these things can be accomplished with a screen in your hand.

Find a Summer Camp for Your Child

Alternatives to "Game" Camps

While a full day of gaming may be on the top of every kid’s dream list for the summer, we know that developmentally speaking, their brains can’t handle the concentrated time on entertainment screens. Too much dopamine and limbic center stimulation (over 20 minutes at a time) is out of balance.

Think like a team. If your child wants to go to game-design camp, challenge him or her to think differently. Research together other, new things he or she may enjoy. Good game designers know how to work on teams and interact with people and camps are a great place to learn those people skills.

More than media camp. While journaling and writing are great skills for building creativity, many media camps include heavy doses of playing on social media. Tread carefully. Instead, look for a traditional creative writing “outdoor” camp that stirs the imagination outdoors and not on a screen, uses traditional pen and paper, and provides time outdoors to allow your child’s mind to dream. Remember that you care about what content your child is exposed to more than anyone else at camp.

Coding camp conundrum. If you choose a coding camp, your child may spend six hours in front of a screen learning computer code. Childhood is a time to be free. Many adults yearn for outdoor time after they get a "computer" job. Let the kids play. Opt for something that offers outdoor experiences and less time in front of a screen.

Summer camp in your own backyard. Get together with a few moms and brainstorm ideas. You can rotate houses, or stay at one. Have the kids bring their own lunch and any other supplies they may need. Consider a sports-camp theme or one of my favorites, an art camp for boys. I do “summer camp” every summer at my house and we love how easy it is and my kids look forward to it every year.  

Summer Camp Tips for Media-Savvy Parents

Consider these things before you send your child to summer camp.

Go Screen Free. Many kids struggle with gaming overuse in the summer months more than any other time of the year. Don’t let a summer camp be another screen-saturated experience. If the camp you are looking at allows or provides screens, it may not be the healthiest option for your child. Look for outdoor/traditional camps.

Social Media Safety. Many summer camps have online picture albums posted on their social media accounts. You likely will be asked to sign a release saying that you are OK with that. Make sure they don't tag you or your child in any of their pictures and they don't upload live images or videos. Posting a picture that identifies your child's location, what they are wearing and that they are away from their parents is dangerous. Also, make sure the social media albums are private and can only be seen by families of campers. This does not prohibit families from sharing an image.

Finally, many counselors take pictures of themselves with your child, ask about the social media policy for staff as there may be pictures of your child floating around on their counselors private pages. Also, find out if counselors are allowed to have smartphones in the cabins. While you may be good at monitoring social media for your 10-year-old, the camp counselor may not be, and their activity on social media is not going to be safe for your child.

Schedules. Ask to see daily schedules and ask questions. If movies and TV shows are going to be played during rainy-day activities, challenge them to find indoor games to fill the time. You are paying a lot of money for others to keep your children safe and busy.

Camp should be the last place you have to worry about what your child is exposed to on a screen — theirs or someone else's.  If you allow screens all year as part of their entertainment and school life, then pick a camp that gives your child a real taste of carefree childhood, just like you had. They only have a few years to really enjoy and create the memories of childhood camps.

For more information on balancing video games and social media go to: www.familiesmanagingmedia.com