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A space for an otherwise lost childhood

There was an essay on the After Babel substack last week titled "A time we never knew" about Gen Z nostalgia for a childhood they never knew. A childhood they have heard about from parents and older siblings. They have seen from an endless stream of media. But that they've never known themselves.

The author of the piece, Freya India, uses the word anemoia (a neologism that means nostalgia for a time or place one has never known). I use the term Digital Generational Amnesia to describe, if not the same idea, a related one.

India writes about how Gen Z, and now Gen Alpha kids are nostalgic for a childhood that they never experienced. She describes is poignantly and powerfully

"We never knew friendship before it became keeping up a Snapstreak or using each other like props to look popular on Instagram. And the freedom—we never felt the freedom to grow up clumsily; to be young and dumb and make stupid mistakes without fear of it being posted online."

At MTC, we think about the role we play by providing the time, and the space, for these experiences, device-free.

We feel that it is doubly important to do so, because not only do we think it is important for every teen to have the experiences India describes, but because we believe every teen has the right to make informed choices about how they spend their time.

Simply put, without having time and space to gain device-free lived experience, in a community of peers, teens and young-adults are not able to make informed choices between alternatives. If they don't know what it's like to spend time outdoors, without the distraction of a phone or the experience blocking airpods in their ears, how can they make an effective time-use choice?

How can a teen who lacks the memory of what it's like to feel the spark of creativity leap up out of a cloudwatching daydream give consent to an infinite, infinitely distracting, scroll of content.

India writes - "But we have to remember what has been lost. When we are grieving record stores, mixtapes, old-school romance, and friends goofing around in ‘90s high schools, what are we actually grieving? Delayed gratification. Deeper connection. Play and fun. Risk and thrill. Life with less obsessive self-scrutiny. These are things we can reclaim—if we remember what they are worth and roll back the phone-based world that degraded them."

These are the very experiences camp provides. Delayed gratification and the pursuit of new skills. Deeper connections with available peers. Play and fun for no reason than its good to be playful and have fun. Risk and thrill, and pushing ourselves so we learn to overcome, or at least live with, stress and anxiety. Less obsessive self-scrutiny, cause at camp we often learn the only person in our way, is ourselves.

Teens need camp, more than ever, in 2024. Cause it's not too late. But we need to give them a reason to choose.


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