Remember when Summer was so simple? We’d wake up, Dad would already be at work, Mom would be home, and we would spend our days outside — in the streets, backyards, parks, and pools. In today’s world, our kids have so much more to distract them: Hundreds of television channels, limitless internet, iPods/Touches/Pads/Phones/etc, Xbox Live, and of course central air conditioning!

Yet these wonderful technological advances create a void of life skills that come from the old time basics. Instead of learning life exploring outside, kids are learning life through multiple screens. Instead of scraping their knees and learning life lessons, technology indirectly shelters them from reality. And we know what they are watching on their screens: Sex, violence, and commercialized exaggerations of real life. With more and more moms at work than ever before, how can we give our kids the childhood experiences and life skills that we learned? One word: Camp.

So put on your shorts, pack your bathing suit, lather on the sun screen, and leave the electronics home. Camp is a step back in time, to a simpler time when if it rained, we got a little wet. Choices we made had repercussions because our parents weren’t lurking over our shoulders. And we learned how to socialize and make friends, because our relationships weren’t based on texting, “liking” photos, and accumulating Facebook “friends” (acquaintances).

At camp young people learn how to actually talk to one another, relate to older and younger people, and learn the life skills that colleges and employers are looking for in the 21st century.

What are 21st century skills? They are not computer programming and technology skills, nor the “3 Rs,” which most schools’ standardized tests are based on. They are the skills and competencies required to work with people, so that issues can be resolved quickly, and tasks can be tackled and conquered efficiently. Check out and see how the top corporations and education organizations have come together to identify the essential skills relevant in today’s world. By the way, there is a wonderful place where millions of kids continue to gain these skills every summer: Camp.

So while most schools still focus on reading, writing, and arithmetic, camp is experiential education in what the p21 organization calls “the 4Cs” — critical thinking and problem solving, communication, collaboration, and creativity. These are social and behavioral skills such as work ethic, communications, teamwork, collaboration, and the No. 1 deficiency among young people: leadership.

Camp is more relevant and important than ever before. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 17 percent of children between the ages of 2 and 19 are considered obese, and of course they are, spending their lives indoors, in front of screens. The Kaiser Foundation found that children ages 8 to 18 spend approximately 4.5 hours watching TV, 1.5 hours on the computer, and more than an hour playing video games every day. As they turn into tweens and teens, they send an average of 60 text messages per day and spend an inordinate amount of time updating their social media profiles.

Young people may feel that they are super-connected, but they are actually less connected than ever, have fewer close friendships and less “face to face” social skills, and are less capable of coping with the challenges of life.

Meanwhile, the American Camp Association conducted a study with more than 7,600 campers from some 80 camps to gauge the outcomes by their summer camp experiences. Parents, staff, and children all reported significant growth in self-esteem, peer relationships, independence, adventure and exploration, leadership, environmental awareness, friendship skills, values, decision-making, social comfort, and spirituality. These are life skills that transform children into successful adults and contributors to society who are inspired to one day change the world.

Summer camp is a transformative experience, where children find their passions for life, make lasting friendships, and feel that their potential is limitless. So get your kids outside, away from the computers, TVs, and smartphones. Let them get hot, dirty, sweaty, and wet at camp this summer. They will thank you now and later.

Andy Pritikin is the owner/director of Liberty Lake Day Camp; a board member of the American Camp Association, New York & New Jersey; and president of NJ Camps GAP.

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