By Lindsay Rother
The digital age is among a number of factors that have transformed our culture over the last several decades. The invention of air conditioning has eliminated front porch sitting. The addition of garages has omitted the walk from your car to your house, and the advent of television has pulled people inside, away from the great outdoors. This list of conveniences continually grows, and we’ve now added social media and Internet access to the ranks.
Today, fast friends are too often made from the comfort and security of a digital screen. Yet, instead of conversing with others in the line or lobby, we pull out our phones and scroll. Restaurants fill with tables of people engaging others through a screen rather than enjoying the people right in front of them. Kids watch this behavior, pick up the same tendencies and struggle to navigate real, face-to-face conversations. No, the digital age isn’t the only factor — but it’s a significant one.
Teaching Healthy Social Media Practices
The best way to teach a child anything is to model it. A child learns to say sorry to a friend after seeing dad apologize to mom. A child learns discipline and positive habits by watching parents who are balanced in health, work and commitments. This principle is no different with relationships. The primary way children will learn to develop friendships is by watching parents engage with the people in their lives.
Creating a culture of unplugged conversation, like mealtimes or carpools, will naturally develop kids who are able to better conduct themselves in face-to-face conversation. Parents, your greatest tool is to epitomize healthy and lasting relationships with and for your kids.
What is Healthy Friendship?
True friendships can look different depending on age and life stage, but the core principles are the same.
A healthy friendship is centered on trust and should be mutually beneficial. A true friendship cultivates fun and laughter, as well as topics of substance and depth. Genuine friends encourage and challenge one another to grow. There are times when one friend’s needs are greater, but eventually the roles reverse. Healthy friendship can survive hard times because challenges strengthen the relationship rather than break it.
For children, a healthy friendship can be found in kids with similar interests that allow them to relate while developing a deeper bond. From there, they learn to appreciate who God has made them as individuals and celebrate their similarities and their differences. They should be able to laugh and play together while still maintaining their own identities.
Summer Camp Friendships
Everything about summer camp helps children form strong bonds. This starts when kids are required to navigate life without mom or dad present to assist. Campers gain confidence in their abilities to engage in friendships in a safe environment like Kanakuk.
Kids are wrestling with some of life’s greatest questions, and few people take the time to actually come alongside them to help. At Kanakuk and summer camps in general, distractions are limited and value is placed on intentionally pursuing face-to-face friendship. Because of this, summer camp friendships are often close and long-lasting.
One of my favorite moments at Kamp is when a camper sees one of her camp friends for the first time since the previous year. Sheer joy ensues. You can see the value of those few days or weeks and the impact it has on their entire year.
For example, we have two Kampers currently, one in Arkansas and the other in Colorado, who are best friends. They only know each other from Kanakuk, but their care for one another is so evident. They pray for and encourage each other year round, yet they only see each other at Kamp for two weeks each summer. It’s such a fun picture of the strong bonds that can form at summer camp!
Unplug to Connect
Another way summer camp allows friendships to blossom is by providing a much-needed escape from technology. At Kanakuk, we don’t participate in technology during the term. It is one window of the year where our campers aren’t consumed by handheld devices and are instead running around, playing, laughing and having meaningful conversations.
There is great value in helping them realize the dependence technology can present. We have countless kids and staff tell us that they would rather just leave their phones with us at the end of their time at Kamp. The extended, unplugged time helps illustrate the freedom that comes with creating boundaries concerning social media and technology.
Lifelong Tools for Cultivating Friendships
There are many reasons strong bonds are formed at camp, but if I had to simplify it I would say this: in the midst of having fun, children have the opportunity to develop relationships based on trust and conversations that matter.
I firmly believe children who actively pursue face-to-face relationship will be more confident, kind and happy as they move into adulthood. When kids learn to do offline relationships well, they will be better prepared for adult life, while kids who would prefer to type their feelings rather than share them verbally tend to struggle interpersonally.
We often see this difference among our college-age staffers at Kanakuk. Many staffers send texts to communicate important information because in their world that’s sufficient.
To teach this lesson, I regularly pick up my phone after receiving such a text, call the staffer and make him or her communicate their needs over the phone. I explain that this will be an area to separate them from their peers as they go on to pursue jobs, handle relational conflict and more. Summer camp doesn’t just teach kids the value of offline communication, but staff as well!
A key to raising healthy adults is to model healthy, appropriate behavior. Hang up and hang out! Send your kids out into the front yard to play device-less. Create a culture where mealtime is used to engage in conversation. Allow your kids to attend summer camp where they will make friends from all over the country and learn from older role models who care. I guarantee this will set your children on the road to success in every facet of their lives.