Summer camp isn’t just for kids anymore. Adults are taking time off work, ditching their cell phones and reconnecting with nature at summer camp experiences across California.
Each year, more than 14 million children and adults attend camp in the U.S., according to data from the 2013 American Camp Association’s Camp Compensation and Benefits Report. Adult-focused camps have been around for years and include programs specializing in arts and music or more general camps focused on outdoor adventures.
According to a study by Kent State University on the effects of cellphone usage, happiness and GPA, “high frequency cell phone users tended to have lower GPA, higher anxiety, and lower satisfaction with life (happiness) relative to their peers who used the cell phone less often.”
One unique brand of camp gaining popularity is the tech-free summer experience. Camps, such as Digital Detox, were founded with the mission of forcing people to drop their smartphones and connect with nature and each other.
According to a Smartphone and IoT Consumer Trends 2017 study, one quarter of millennials look at their phone more than 100 times a day and nearly half of millennials look at their phone more than 50 times a day. Without their phones, consumers reported feeling frustrated, lost, stressed and sad.
“Millennials are the first generation to grow up in the internet era. They didn’t develop social skills like the previous generations,” said Lisa Tahir, a licensed clinical social worker. She added that millennials have a higher instance of empathy-deficit disorders such as, narcissism.
“They grew up in front of screens,” she said.
Summer camps and outdoor experiences offer a forced respite from smartphones. Digital Detox was founded in 2015 and has gained international recognition as one of the leading technology-free programs for adults. Its flagship program, Camp Grounded, is a 10-day mindfulness-based, psychological-driven program that takes place at campsites across the U.S.
“Sometimes we let our phones, the internet, and social media take over our lives – at CG that isn’t an option. You can relax and enjoy the solitude and nature or you can jump into experiences like hikes, high dives, zip-lines, kayaking, paddle boarding, creative endeavors, singing, dancing, playing games, and acting like no one is watching,” Stefani Marie wrote in an online review of Camp Grounded in March 2017. “It’s important to feel comfortable with who you are and to find people that accept you as well…this place is more than just accepting- it shows you the true meaning of loving yourself and others.”
Adam Tichauer, the founder of Camp No Counselors, shared a similar feeling, “At CNC, you don’t have a cellphone as a crutch — you can’t just scroll through Instagram while you’re waiting in line — you have to talk to people.”
Camp No Counselors hosted its first camp in Los Angeles in September 2014 and now hosts 11 camps across the United States and Canada. Although CNC doesn’t have a strict no-technology policy, Tichauer said that campsites do not have WiFi or, in many cases, cell phone reception. He called the camp’s policy on limited cell phone use a “hard ask,” adding, “there are no real rules at CNC.” The second “hard ask” at camp is to not talk about work or what campers do for a living.
“At camp, you make friends based on the fundamentals – do we have things in common? Are they nice to me?,” Tichauer said.
He listed dodgeball and Hungover Arts and Crafts as campers’ favorite activities. Tichauer said the only thing that sets CNC apart from childhood camp is the open bar. He said this feature is popular among campers who “work hard during the week and like to play hard on the weekends.”
“We’re so tethered to our phones and to work through our phones that it’s important to take a breath of fresh air and to get away,” Tichauer said. “It can be rejuvenating and healthy to take a short break.”