Spending the Summer Unplugged, by Debbie & Eric Sasson

By January 15, 2018 February 14th, 2018 Experts Blog

I spend my summers, along with my husband and our two daughters in rural Vermont with 120 children who think of themselves as “quirky” – many of whom have a diagnosis of NVLD.  Our community of over 200 people has an amazingly rare opportunity to spend the summer months almost completely unplugged.  Aside from daily communication with parents via email and phone, we live without television, cell phones, video games.  You see, we run a residential summer camp where we focus on the things that matter most…interpersonal IN PERSON relationships – something so many of us now struggle to find time for.

I just finished reading two articles about the impact of smartphones on our emotional wellbeing and our intelligence.  Neither article was positive.  The bottom line is that our constant use of our phones has caused us to feel more depressed, to sleep less, to interact with others less and to be more distracted.  All of these factors are even more intense for teens who are using phones these days as a way to interact with peers.

An article in the Atlantic highlights how much things have changed for teens since most parents were going through middle school and high school.  The author reminds us of an adolescence marked by events like rushing to get our drivers licenses, an eagerness to have time with friends away from parents and dating.  Teens now are much more likely to spend time alone in their rooms connecting with peers using social media.  They use Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat.  None of this is bad – in fact, teens these days feel lucky that they don’t have to leave home to be with friends.  The problem is that, although they are connected to peers, the author notes that teens report feeling “alone and distressed”.    Teens report that they struggle to interact in person after being so used to screen interactions.

Most notable to me was the author’s findings that teens feel MORE left out these days.  It’s obvious when a teen is not invited to a party when everyone on social media is posting photos of parties or gatherings from which they have been excluded.  Girls, in particular, are masterful cyberbullies and it seems that teens feel more at liberty to be unkind when they don’t have to look their victim in the eyes.  For young adults with NVLD, for those who have trouble navigating the complicated social world, who are feeling left out and different, social media is even more troublesome.

The author suggests that, although very difficult, parents should work hard to limit time teens spend on social media. The more we can encourage young adults to spend time face-to-face with one another, participating in activities that DON’T involve screens, the more likely they will be to feel less depressed, to sleep better and to feel less alone.  Camp seems like a great opportunity to practice this and may be literally life-changing.

Debbie and Eric Sasson

Debbie and Eric are the directors of Camp Akeela, a co-ed, overnight camp with locations in Vermont and Wisconsin. Debbie has a Masters in School Counseling and a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology; Eric has a Masters in Education from Harvard University. Within a well-rounded, traditional camp program, Akeela is a small, supportive community that helps campers improve their social skills.  Akeela focuses on building a community in which campers feel great about themselves, make friends, try new things and have fun!

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