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kid outside on a smartphone Kids and Technology

Should Kids Have Cell Phones at Summer Camp?

Allison Scovell  |  May 09, 2024

If you’re considering sending your kids to summer camp, you’ve probably found yourself asking the same question that parents all over are also thinking about — should my kid have a cell phone at summer camp? Most camps have figured out their specific summer camp cell phone policy, and it ranges from screens-galore to an analog-only party.

So, what kind of camp should you look for? The University of Michigan actually did an extensive study about the pros and cons of cell phones at summer camp. This was back in 2018, but the findings are only more relevant today as teen phone use has persisted. The study looked at cell phone use at summer camps and evaluated kids and staff’s experiences based on surveys. 

While the study had many interesting findings, it ultimately noted that it’s more about the type of camp experience you want your child to have, which is different for every family. So keep that in mind as we discuss the pros and cons in this post, and we hope it helps in your search for the perfect summer camp for your kid!

Pros of a Cell-Phone-Free Summer Camp  

Less distraction from camp

This is the first thing most people think of in response to this cell phone and summer camp debate. For many generations, camp meant you were disconnected from normal life in a good way, with days full of fun outdoor activities and new friends. With a cell phone, however, kids can be pulled into games, worry about things at home, and more. 

No cyberbullying to worry about 

Just like at school, phones can divide or isolate campmates in multiple ways. Cell phones at summer camp may make kids who don’t have one feel left out. Other kids may even make fun of peers for not having a phone. Additionally, kids may use their phones to be mean or bully other kids through texting or social media, someplace where camp staff may not be able to see. 

One study from the University of Michigan illustrates how kids are thinking about this possibility, too. It noted that some kids were too nervous to participate in activities like a talent show because they were scared other kids would take embarrassing photos or videos of them and put them online.

Kids get the screen break they need — and may even want

As much as most kids would likely prefer to have their phone with them at camp, sometimes they just don’t realize how much they’d actually enjoy the break. The same goes for adults — sometimes we need external circumstances to help us experience something different and better. Kids may realize that without their phones, they can be more present and not worry about anything going on anywhere else. It may even help them decide to regulate their phone use differently after camp, remembering what they enjoyed about it over the summer.

Cons of a Cell-Phone-Free Summer Camp

In case of emergencies 

This is the top concern when it comes to no cell phones at summer camp. For some parents (and kids), being away from home is a big deal! Knowing your kids can get in touch with you when they need to is a huge relief on both sides. Of course, if there was actually an emergency, the camp should have systems in place to contact parents. 

But even if it’s not an emergency, it could be something concerning like bullying, as we mentioned before. It might not be an immediate emergency, but if your child is having a poor experience, it’s natural for parents to want to be aware and even come pick them up if needed. And if for some reason, your child does not trust the staff or feel comfortable talking to them, they’d be able to reach you directly with their phone. 

Technology as an outlet for fun and creativity 

As distracting as phones are, they can still be used for good in the right context! For example, at camp, this may look like kids learning about photography by using their phone camera. It’s a cool way to both foster creativity and teach kids to use their phones for something productive. 

Phones could also facilitate other activities, like a scavenger hunt where you use your phone to take pictures. In general, lots of camps embrace technology, even if it’s not specifically a cell phone. This could look like movie nights or video game tournaments. The point is that a good, fulfilling summer camp doesn’t have to be totally screen-free. 

Another way for campmates to connect 

Whether we like it or not, it’s pretty established by now that Gen Z and the budding Gen Alpha use technology to build friendships. It’s just second nature for many of them, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing. With cell phones at summer camp, kids could learn a new TikTok dance together or pull up Instagram to show a funny meme that reminds them of their new friend. 

But it’s also worth noting that if kids want to connect over social media, they can always write down each other’s handles for later.

How the Bark Phone Can Help

The decision to bring a smartphone is totally up to each individual family. But it may not be a completely black-and-white decision — you could consider sending your child with a device that has very limited functionality so that it’s not a distraction but still allows you to communicate with them. And that’s exactly what the Bark Phone can be! 

The Bark Phone is a kid-friendly smartphone created to fit the needs of any child who uses it. The parental controls are customizable so that you can allow or block access to a whole host of things, including the internet, the app store, adding new contacts, deleting text messages, and so much more. So if you want to send your child to camp with a non-distracting phone, simply send them with a Bark Phone that has everything blocked except calls, texts, and location tracking! Then after camp, you can easily add back in more features like apps or social media.

Ready to get your very own Bark Phone? Plans start at just $39/month and include unlimited talk and text. Order yours today!

Bark helps families manage and protect their children’s digital lives.

mother and daughter discussing Bark Parental Controls