A screen-free summer helps kids develop deeper friendships
Every year it gets more challenging to wrestle kids away from their screens. One of the unforeseen perks of sleepaway camp is the fact that we take devices out of the equation for almost two months, freeing up time for the great outdoors (you’re welcome!). But getting kids off of screens has another hidden benefit. It seems to boost their empathy, too.
A recent study compared two groups of 11-year-old boys and girls from various socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds. Both used screens in similar ways, texting friends, playing video games, and streaming shows. But one group went to sleepaway camp for five days without their devices, and one group stayed home with their screens.
The two groups were each given a test, the Diagnostic Analysis of Nonverbal Behavior, that measures one’s ability to read emotional cues, first on a Monday and again that Friday. As you might expect, the campers scored higher than the stay-at-home kids. While the margin was small– 33% compared to 20% — all that time spent interacting face-to-face, without the distraction of a phone nearby or a TV beckoning, definitely had an impact. And that was just after five days of sleepaway camp. Imagine if they’d tested our campers after three, four or seven weeks!
The study is one of many that shows how smartphones and mobile devices have affected our ability to focus on the people right in front of us. Even when we’re not actively on our phone, it’s still alerting us with notifications and chimes, nudging us to pay attention to someone or something else.
Sleepaway camp shows kids what it is like to be with one another – and by themselves– in real, uninterrupted time.
“If you can’t be alone with your own thoughts [ever], you can’t really hear what others have to say because you need them to support your fragile sense of self,” Shelly Turkle, MIT professor and author of Reclaiming Conversation once said in an interview. “True empathy requires the capacity for solitude.”
Not being able to check in constantly with people far away – parents or friends – enables campers to make deeper connections and friendships with the people they are with, and to trust their own instincts more. It’s a precious gift to give them every summer.