More and more, kids around the country are powering down and living it up at summer camps.
HANNAH VIROSLAV isnt bashful about recounting the pain involved in relinquishing her iPhone for the three weeks she spends each summer at Camp Champions in Central Texass Hill Country. Untethering the San Antonio 17-year-old from text messages, phone calls, and Facebook is a bit like hitting her finger with a hammer: Its excruciating.
Its extremely difficult, Hannah says. Its, like, your whole life.
Once shes unplugged, though, shes completely liberated, free to frolic in the outdoors for a blissful 21 days, which she spends water skiing, horseback riding, climbing, and making crafts. Hard as it may be to put technology on hold, its a trial Hannah looks forward to every year.
Its kind of like a symbolic way of stepping out of the real world, she says. It allows me to take off from home, leave my worries, thoughts about college, and stress behind. I just go escape.
It makes perfect sense, really, that kids such as Viroslav would relish the opportunity to back slowly away from their cell phones and PlayStation controllers for a few weeks each year and rediscover the outdoors at one of the myriad options available to them nationwide via the American Camp Association (ACA). But whats striking is how much thats actually happening, in light of the full-on assault of competition these camps face from video games, hundreds of television channels, the ubiquitous Internet, and a raft of other programmed activities that make todays overscheduled child busier than a high-flying executive.
Attendance at camps across America isnt shrinking, despite the fact that childhood obesity rates are at an all-time high, not to mention that the average young person now spends nearly eight hours a day plugged into some sort of electronic media, according to a 2010 study from the Kaiser Family Foundation. In fact, for at least the past several years, attendance at camps nationwide has grown by an average of one to three percent per year, and nearly 65 percent of camps surveyed in 2006 reported an increase of four to 10 percent, which explains the ACAs otherwise cheeky goal of increasing participation numbers of school-age kids to 20 million by the year 2020. Currently, about 11 million of the countrys 53 million school-age children attend camp each year. That means the ACA is looking to nearly double its numbers over the next decade.