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The Anxious Generation - camp as an antidote.

Jon Haidt's new book "The Anxious Generation", was published last month. It's arrival has generated intense interest, stoked some rapturous reviews, and even sparked anger. Haidt lays out, in well researched but accessible terms, the devastating impact that the "phone-based childhood" is having on kids and teens.

Haidt contrasts the childhood and adolescence of Gen Z kids with those of previous generations, and explores the startling divergence in mental and social health outcomes for Gen Z kids compared to old cohorts. Exploring different potential causes, Haidt returns again and again to one major change that occurred during the critical periods of social, cognitive and emotional development for Gen Z kids - the widespread adoption of the smart phone.

At MTC, we have been pretty vocal for a long time now that we're not fans of the ways in which social media, digital devices, video games - the broad attention economy - influence and impact teens. We've been cell phone and smart phone free since these devices became available for kids. We've stepped away from advertising on any social media platforms because it doesn't feel right to us to be contributing to the bottom line of companies we know are harming our campers.

There's something else we've known for a long time though, and it's something Haidt highlights in his new book. Kids and teens need to be close to nature, they need to be social, and they need to play. Often, all three of these things happen at the same time, and outside of the camp setting, all three of these things are vulnerable to displacement by technology.

Haidt, and other researchers in the field, suggest that norms and rules need to change in order to protect kids from the harmful impacts of digital devices and attention economy apps.

At MTC, we suggest that camp is a big part of the solution, the antidote to the toxin. At camp, teens get to play. They get to socialize. They are close to nature. And they are device-free for the duration.

Whether at camp for two weeks or seven, our campers get to experience device-free life, not just for themselves, but for everyone else around them too. It's the deal we make - give up your device, and become part of a community where everyone is present. So often in teens school year lives their peers are forever somewhere else. Immersed in virtual, placeless, para-social worlds, teens are missing out on the great, messy, sometimes risky, often funny, happening in real time world. Online their interactions are out of synch, disembodied, algorithmically directed. They are, literally, missing out on some of the most important developmental experiences of their lives. BUT, at camp, for days and weeks at a time, they get to live all the socially awkward, real-world-embodied, exciting, potential for a bruise or skinned knee, experiences they NEED to grow into confident, curious, healthy adults. (Pictured above is my then 7 year old trying desperately to get as messy as possible on a rainy day. He's now old enough to be a camper...).

Camp isn't the solution for everything. But I truly believe, in this case, that an authentic, device-free summer camp is the best, perhaps only, antidote available to teens in 2024.

If you'd like to know more, reach out to me via email, or call my cell 610.585.2115. I'd love to chat.

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