Cellphones at summer camp

phone-1031070_250Earlier this week I posted an article giving adults some guidance, sometimes tongue-in-cheek, about what they should pack for spending a week at summer camp with their troop. In it, I included a link to a packing list for Scouts that my troop has used for a few years now, and on that list was a mention that cellphones shouldn’t be brought to, or used at, camp.

Here’s the paragraph:

Scouts should not bring…Cell phones – these should not be carried or used in camp because they are a distraction. Boys may bring them in the car to and from camp, but they must be left in the car. Adults are requested to leave their phones in their cars or tents.

The list was written several years ago back when cellphones were basically telephones and not much else. Their main use was for placing and receiving voice calls (and, later, text messages) and, as such, they present a powerful distraction away from the action at camp when they’re used to chat with family or friends back home. They can also exacerbate issues of homesickness, and can circumvent the Scoutmaster’s normal defense mechanisms to combat it. Conceivably, the Scout could call home and ask parents to come and pick him up, which they just might do without first checking with the Scoutmaster or signing him out at the camp office. As a result, the Scout might just vanish in the middle of the night, leaving the troop and the camp in a panic over the missing Scout when he is in fact safe at home with his parents, unbeknownst to anyone at camp.

These considerations are still present, but the cellphone has evolved from a communicator into a powerful personal pocket computer – smartphones, in fact. Boys use them every day for just about everything but talking to their friends. They’ve become a virtual extension of the brain, more useful than a shelf full of books and other camping gadgets.

It’s time to reconcile your love-hate relationship with the handheld devices and to not prohibit their use within appropriate guidelines. We still don’t want Scouts to make pickup arrangements with their parents, or be distracted by texting their friends during Emergency Preparedness merit badge instruction, but they definitely can serve a useful purpose at summer camp.

  • The Boy Scout Handbook is available in a digital format. Rather than carry around a bulky book that can easily become damaged, waterlogged or lost, these are available at his fingertips. And, they’re searchable. (Addendum: See the comments for more information on this. -fm)
  • There are dozens more Scouting apps, including ones for tracking advancement and merit badges, tying knots, telling campfire stories, organizing photographs and first aid.
  • There’s no need for a separate camera for the Photography and Movie Making merit badges or for chronicling life at camp.
  • The compass and map functions replace having to carry a magnetic compass and paper maps (though there are times when they want a backup in case the battery runs flat).
  • Weather apps let you see when a storm is moving in so they can tie their tent flaps down.
  • The US Army has a Bugle Call app, in case your troop bugler loses his lip (or you don’t have a bugler).
  • There’s even a flashlight – a pretty bright one, too, for use in a pinch.
  • And, of course, they can call for help in a real emergency.

As long as there is an understanding about how smartphones are to be used and not used, Scouts shouldn’t be denied the use of these devices. The patrol leaders’ council should set the guidelines, within the parameters established by the Scoutmaster, and the senior patrol leader and patrol leaders should explain the rules and get everyone to buy in. Boys will listen to other boys more readily than they will to adults, so having the youth leaders set and enforce the rules carries a lot more weight than if the Scoutmaster dictates it.

Try letting – even encouraging – your Scouts to use their smartphones at camp. You’ll be surprised at the positive impact that one small change can make.


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4 Replies to “Cellphones at summer camp”

  1. Do you have a link to the Boy Scout Handbook for the Android? I do not see it on the Google Play site or Scouting.org.

    1. Allan, I am not an Android user but I thought the Handbook was available in that format – pretty much anything available for iOS is also on Android. But I looked in Google Play and didn’t see it either, so it looks like it’s only available for iOS. If I find out differently I’ll post an update. Sorry for the oversight and thanks for bringing it to my attention!

      1. I checked with Clarke Green, who knows more about the Scout-facing side of things than I do. He said that as far as he knows, the new handbook isn’t available as an app on either iOS or Android, and he wasn’t impressed with the iOS version of the last edition of the handbook – it’s not even searchable, among other shortcomings. The only digital edition of the current Scout Handbook is available here, from ScoutStuff. However, it’s not a PDF or something mainstream like Kindle but on the Inkling reader platform, which requires the user to log in every time. There is no combined pricing if you already own the hard copy – it’s an additional $15 for the digital download.

  2. Though Tomahawk Ranch hosts about 200 girls per week in the summer, Gray can think of only two occasions when campers couldn t handle leaving their technology or perhaps its sense of connectedness behind. In fact, most camp professionals find it s campers parents that have a harder time letting go.

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