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Screen Free and Among the Wildflowers

July 1, 2021

Camp Walden Canada asked me for some comments about how parents can prepare their children for
a “Screen Free” Summer. Here is what I had to say.

A year and a half ago we were thinking a lot about screen

“How many hours a week is okay for my kid to spend in
front of the screen?”

“At what ages should we allow certain apps and activities?”

“Are adults spending too much time on screens?”

These were all great, thoughtful questions and they were all coming from the right place:
wanting to do our best as a parent.

Then the pandemic.

It caused us to respond and act in ways that we never had before. Virtual school was mandatory
and meant more time in front of the screen. Quarantine and isolation meant FaceTiming with
Grandparents and playdates over Zoom. When the kids wanted to go out and play, we said the
unimaginable, “why don’t you play video games or go on your device instead.”

No judgement here!

Parents, caregivers, professionals, were all just doing their and our best!

And while doing our best, we became even more dependent on those devices. For our kids, if
their devices weren’t already an extension of themselves, the last 18 months solidified that.
Phones, tablets, computers, tvs, became their everything.

On Friday when you say goodbye to your kids, after the hugs and kisses, they will walk away
from you and walk away from their devices. They will miss you and all the comforts of home.
They will also miss their devices. That means:
• not being able to connect with you immediately but making connections with friends,
• not being able to ask you for help but getting help from their counsellors,
• and not being able to fill empty time so easily but filling that time slowly while engaging
with the outdoors.

For those at Walden, the things we love about camp might be a little harder for us than usual.
We might get a little uncomfortable at times… but everything will be okay.
Camp Staff are in Pre-Camp Training right now. They’re learning about safety guidelines,
teaching kids how to make their beds and how to deal with the challenges that the pandemic
will bring this summer. I’ll be heading up there tomorrow to contribute whatever I can to that
training. I’ll be sharing with them these 7½ ideas (because 5 isn’t enough and 10 is too many). I
hope they are helpful for your kids as well.

1. Be Upfront – Let kids know that camp will feel different than home.

2. Name The Feelings – Help kids understand that they might feel excited, joyful, thrilled,
but also withdrawal, homesick, lonely, bored. Helping them identify feelings will help
them name those feelings for their counsellors.

3. Understand The Connections between Feelings and the Body – Acknowledge that
sometimes those feelings may present as a headache, a stomachache, or an overall icky
feeling. Help them understand what may actually be causing that feeling.

4. Be Comfortable With Being Uncomfortable – This is a skill that camp has been teaching
for years. When a new activity looks hard or scary, we feel uncomfortable, and we do it
anyway (at our level). Being away from the comforts of home isn’t new for campers, but
they’ve spent a lot of time at home. That weird feeling they may have is called
“discomfort”, and that feeling is okay.

5. Problem Solving Skills – Kids can solve problems on their own, they may need to be
reminded of that. When someone or something is upsetting them, they know how to do
something about it. A nice signal for them might be – If I want to write a letter about
something that made me sad, can I do something about it on my own and would telling
my counsellor help?

6. Change The Environment – When we’re feeling bored at home, our devices can help
relieve that feeling. Without our devices at camp, what can we do? Go for a walk, play a
game, talk to a friend, plan something fun. It’s okay to sit in your boredom, it’s also okay
to do something about it.

7. Bedtime Will Feel Strange – For most, it’s likely been a year without sleepovers and a
year with falling asleep with your device close by. Remind them of the tricks and
strategies they’ve used in the past to help them fall asleep.

7½ (because 5 isn’t enough and 10 is too many) Upset Feelings Are Usually Temporary
For most, feelings of discomfort at the start are just that… the feelings that we all have
when we start something new. Others may have a harder time. Those who try to
integrate themselves right away into their cabins, units and activities will have it easiest.
Others may have more difficulty. It’s all okay. Let them know it’s okay if they miss home,
family or their devices in the first few days for in the end, all they’ll remember is the
time they spent together with friends wild and free!

Hats off to all the parents out there who believed in camp! In my personal and professional
opinion: Kids need camp more than ever.

Michael Waxman is a registered social worker specializing in children, teens, young adults and
those in the LGBTQ2S+ Community and their allies. For more information, please visit


Looking At Your Privilege

April 6, 2021