Our annual Senior Camper Winter Weekend just ended and it could not have been a better event. About 80 of our teen campers, counselors and leadership team spent the weekend hanging out together at our sleepaway camp in New Hampshire, and from start-to-finish it was all about fun times and good friends. We played in the snow and on the ice, ate delicious meals together, and just loved being with people who mean so much to us all. But we have a sneaking suspicion that the X factor in why this was such an extraordinary time was that we asked all of our teens to turn their iphones off and give themselves the gift of a weekend cell phone holiday.
Were they thrilled that we were making this rule? Not all, and there were all sorts of (mostly) funny moments and faces as they handed them in. But then, like a lifting fog, we were able to see the benefits of this request.
Within minutes of detaching from Instagram and Snapchat this group asked me if, by chance, we had any puzzles that they could work on. Together they spent the next few hours working on it, all the while actually talking with one another! Then they gingerly tranported it to one of their cabins so that they could work on it together late at night.
Almost simultaneously this young woman busted out a guitar and her friends sat around in appreciation of the beautiful music she was playing.
Throughout the evening campers went sledding outside on our lighted soccer field and sat in groups in the snow chatting away. Small groups of friends went on walks to enjoy the starry, cloudless sky. The concern of suddenly being disconnected from the outside world seemed to fade fast, and they simply enjoyed themselves.
And while some were playing outside others kept busy with old school games like foosball and ping pong. There was cheering and laughter and apparently no FOMO.
And then the first night of our Winter Weekend was over. Accorrding to our counselors the campers fell asleep fairly early, and attributed it to their not being occupied with texting friends at home, or needing to catch up on the latest viral videos on Youtube.
The next morning, walking into the building where meals were served this is what we saw. Everywhere you looked were very happy campers, so excited to be together and have the opportunity to just hang with one another. This cell phone holiday felt so positive and natural to them because they live this way every summer at our sleepaway camp in NH. Whether you are at Camp for 4 or 7 weeks, you are asked to leave all of your electronics behind (other than the most basic MP3 players). We do this because the science is pretty clear that developing brains need significant time away from screens and apps, and because we know it leads to deeper, more meaningful relationships.
It leads to these guys from Westport, CT, Short Hills, NJ and Belmont, MA excitedly braving the cold in order to learn from our Maintenance Team how to core a hole in our frozen lake and ice fish.
And these young ladies spending their Saturday giggling away inside a snow igloo.
Back in the lodge, without their iphones our campers spent the afternoon working on art projects. They painted and drew and went through about 2 pounds of glitter, and used their art time to also gab away with their friends.
And BOY did they play a lot of games. Heads Up was the clear favorite, but there were also heated rounds of rummy, hearts, backgammon, Apples to Apple, and Watch Your Mouth.
As is our tradition, in the afternoon we also had what is known as the "Mitchell Winter Classic", a football game played in 2 feet of freshly fallen snow.
After dinner, we introduced them to one more activity that apparently is way more fun than staring at your iphone: riding on the back of a horse drawn sleigh! Each trip lasted about 20 minutes, and took them on a scenic, starlit tour of our beautiful campus. As they huddled together you could hear groups off in the dance gleefully singing their favorite camp songs.
It was an incredible weekend of being with our camp friends, but also seeing the importance of giving young people structured time away from their mobile devices. So many of the challenges that come with constant attachment to the rest of the world withered away this weekend. No campers sent texts that accidentally hurt someone's feelings or made a friend feel left out. Meals were deemed to be delicious without being photographed and uploaded. All sorts of fun, incredible, touching moments were enjoyed without needing to be posted and tagged. And they all seemed happy because of it!
Giving our campers a cell phone holiday turned a wonderful weekend into an extraordinary one. We cannot wait to give all of our campers the same gift this coming summer.