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Unplugging Your Camper: Technology vs. Nature

You may not recall the last time you saw your child part with his cell phone or leave home without a portable video game… so you might be unsure how he’ll go without his favorite way of communicating. As a parent, it is normal to be anxious when your child goes away to camp or your family ventures into nature on a weekend retreat.  

Teaching Kids to Unplug

While you think your child may miss the sound of your voice or his favorite tunes playing on his iPod, those seemingly major things may not have had time to cross his mind.  “Camps traditionally have action-packed days with outdoor activities like swimming and sailing and boating,” said Tara Peddicord, summer director at Camp Wabanna in Edgewater.  It is important to have a full grasp of what the camp experience entails in order to let your child know how you plan to stay in touch– it may be in ways he least expects. 
Camping is a time when kids are encompassed in nature and technology takes a back seat.  “Camp tends to be a time to power off which is a nice reprieve from the technologically advanced world that sometimes makes kids forget to run around outside, which is what we foster at camp,” said Peddicord.  While kids tend to want their iPods and cell phones at first, they are usually able to do well and survive a week without them.  

tech_boy_campKeeping in Touch Without Cell Phones

Camps discourage and usually do not allow campers to phone home because they find it makes them more homesick.  However, you can definitely keep in touch.  Many camps allow you to e-mail or fax four or five times a day to instantly reach out to your child.  
“There is not a way for the kids to e-mail back but they are so busy that they just love to hear from mom and dad,” said Peddicord.  Some use a special service called Bunk1.  “Bunk1 is a company where we buy each family three credits or each camper three credits so when a parent wants to send an e-mail, each e-mail is a credit so they can e-mail three times throughout the week,” said Richelle Darrell, director of camp ministry at Camp Pecometh in Centreville.  
Since this is an expense for the camp, it is usually included in a camper fee.  “Bunk1 also lets us upload the probably two hundred pictures we take a day onto the website so parents can go online every night and look to see what their child is doing and hopefully find his nice smiling face having a good time,” said Darrell.  This is a great way for the child and parent to feel connected and for the parent to feel at ease.  Parents can even download the pictures if they want to put them in a scrapbook.

Send a Care Package to Camp

Parents are often welcome to send care packages.  “Parents love to send little stickers, markers and sometimes snacks to share with the cabin,” said Peddicord.  Kids are able to write letters home.  “A lot of parents will send an addressed envelope with the stamp already on it so the kids can write a little note and send it in the mail,” said Peddicord, adding that this is a fun thing to do for kids.  
Of course in the case of a medical emergency, children are able to phone home.  But the idea is that they’re more independent if they are not able to call home every time something good or bad happens.  “It is a good learning lesson for all family members,” said Darrell.  
Keeping technology away from campgrounds is also for your child’s own good.  “We do not want iPods to get lost or broken so the kids just remain unplugged,” said Darrell.  Some older kids try to sneak cell phones into camp and they get put in a safe.  When you go to a campground as a family, the technology situation often changes.  “When you are camping you can use your cell phone and most sites have cable, internet service and even a ground line which is a regular house phone,” said Darlene Jones of Maryland Association of Campgrounds in Thurmont.  

Communication in a Signal-Free Zone

Some campgrounds are in areas where there is no cell coverage.  For this reason, it is important to take precautions and have a game plan for communication.  “If families are going to separate, do their own thing and come back and meet at a certain time, they should make a good plan,” said Rob Deyke, assistant manager at Cunningham Falls and Gambrill State Park.  Kids should always be accompanied by someone over eighteen years of age.  “Folks should let somebody know where they are going,” said Deyke.  You can usually call a 1800 number to contact the state parks.  There are also trail heads with ranger stations where you can leave your contact information, estimated time of arrival and what you plan to do on your itinerary.  
Since communication can sometimes be a challenge, remember to put safety first.  “You can take a sixteen hour wilderness first aid course that focuses on when help is going to be delayed more than one hour,” said Phil Ormandy, health and safety department at the American Red Cross of Central Maryland in Baltimore.  Topics covered include hypothermia, hyperthermia, bee stings, sprained ankles and even trauma from falling down a cliff.  Nature often requires different communication tools. “If you are camping out, bring a whistle, something that can create a fire, a mirrored object so you can signal with flashes,” said Ormandy.  Make sure you know the signals that you can use in a field such as three lines which is an SOS signal or three S’s so people know where to find you.
When it comes to your kids, the best communication is with your sense of sight.  “Keep an eyeball on your kids and trust them as far as you can see them; if you cannot see them, do not trust them,” said Ormandy.  

Jamie Lober, author of Pink Power (getpinkpower.com), is dedicated to providing health information to families.

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