The following letter was sent by ACA CEO Peg Smith to Beth Teitell of Marketplace and Amanda Hess of Slate in response to their recent online articles about technology at camp.
I read your article, and I find I am incredulous. People are questioning the use of technology at camp? Camp, although 150 years old, is not an antique. The camp community serves more children than ever before in its history – preserving the best attributes of a quality experience for young people while remaining contemporary and relevant. Yet, people discuss the experience from rather dated assumptions and, in my opinion, with low regard for parents.
It is important to note that privileged kids are not the only kids going to camp today. Many camps serve middle and low income children and youth. The American Camp Association® (ACA) community annually provides nearly $216 million in camp scholarships. Defining the camp community as a privileged community is a disservice not only to the community itself but even more so to those kids whose parents may never even consider sending their child to camp as a result of your misinformation.
In terms of technology and camp, could you possibly see it as an appropriate responsive measure? The camp community has artfully preserved childhood for children while still satisfying the need parents have to know their kids are safe and having fun. Parents today have a set of expectations that are often driven by fear that is fanned by the media. This fear results in a need to feel they are in uber close partnership with those sharing custodial care for their children.
Technology allows the camp owner/director and parent to have a line of communication without disrupting one of the key elements of a camp experience for children and youth – independence. Today's children, from birth, have had their lives recorded in some fashion. The camera lens is almost like a sibling. I am not suggesting that this is good or bad, but I am suggesting that kids today hardly notice the camera lens when involved in quality activities.
I think it is ill-advised to shame parents, blame the camp community, or suggest the demise of camp. Instead, we should celebrate that these sacred spaces have been preserved for young people – young people who have limited access to the out-of-doors, community living, and the nurturing space dedicated to a child's rite of passage.
The camp experience is as special and simple as it was 150 years ago – it is the world that has changed and the camp community has evolved accordingly. In truth, the camp community has preserved the rite of passage since the beginning of the Industrial Age. The camp community respects the parents of today and has attempted to address their anxieties while preserving the camp experience for kids.
Peg L. Smith, CEO, American Camp Association