Kids Are Better Friends When They Spend Time Away From Screens

The article “Kids Are Better Friends When They Spend Time Away From Screens”, from New York magazine, was sent in by an alum who knows we love to read about the research that reinforces much of what people have instinctively felt about summer camp benefits since 1922. The whole article is linked above.

The diagnostic tool referenced, the DANVA2, is used in all sorts of evaluation settings to test a person’s ability to read others’ verbal and facial cues to make guesses about another person’s emotional state. These are skills that are vital in life, not just in making friends!

In this case, a group of kids straight from the average American middle school daily diet of texting, gaming, and other screen time usage were given the DANVA2 test and then sent off to a week of summer camp without any screentime at all.

The result? When the children returned and were given the DANVA2 again, they performed on average 33% better at reading people’s emotional state based purely on looking at their faces and listening to the sound of their voices.

We already know of the growing body of evidence of the harms screen time can cause; what we are getting more and more of is how much intentional time “unplugged” can do to reverse some of that damage. This has big implications for the value of a camp session:

  • Reducing bullying instincts: Camp people will tell you that a well-run camp is an antidote to bullying behavior, not a cause. Bullying of course can occur in any type of setting, however what we see is that when boys learn to better read the emotional cues of others, they can become more sensitive to other’s feelings. Similarly, when the relative anonymity of the screen is removed, the child is more likely to notice the negative consequences of hurtful actions.
  • Learning to “just” hang out!: Parents of teenagers today have noticed something odd; why is no one at the mall?! Why are teenagers less likely to beg to get together with peers in in-person groups the way previous generations did? These are not small matters; we know that it is in these in-person gatherings that much of our lifelong people skills are learned. Camp of course provides endless opportunities for this real-life engagement.
  • Learning to be a creative partner: If a parent ever turned you out of the house when you said you were bored, than you learned this lesson. Go find a peer nearby and create a way to have fun! These are again cognitive skills that cannot be learned in the absence of human-to-human contact. And it’s also why a thoughtful camp should do more than organize planned activities; periods of time should be built into the schedule that allow kids to know the joy of creating their own games and worlds while roaming the outdoors together.

What lessons did you learn about engaging with other people at camp?

About Camp Mondamin

Freedom of choice and a non-competitive philosophy with extensive wilderness tripping and more! Founded in 1922, Mondamin is a unique summer camp for boys, ages 6 to 16, located in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina.

Camp Mondamin