Adventure Treks as an Antidote

AT Staff17 May, 2012

For the past 19 years, I have enthusiastically endorsed Adventure Treks as a great growth experience for teenagers.   Every year I become more passionate about the benefits.

At times, I wondered if I might be overstating our case.

I am now convinced that I have been understating both the power and the importance of the Adventure Treks experience.  Why?  Because of technology.

This initially may not make sense.  How does attending an outdoor program devoid of technology help a child succeed in a world defined by it?

Our basic theory is the following:
1.    Technology has transformed the world we live in: markets are global, workplaces are constantly evolving and technology itself is perpetually changing.
2.    This new world requires a certain set of skills in order to succeed in it.
3.    Ironically, immersion in technology is impeding the development of the very skills needed for success.

Let’s begin with the skills needed for success.  This 2012 Millennial Branding and Experience Survey of 225 companies shows the skills most in demand by employers:

This data dovetails nicely with data from the Partnership for 21st Century Skills which has surveyed over 2000 organizations and come up with this list  of the top five most important skills for 21st Century success.

1.    Oral communication
2.    Collaboration / teamwork
3.    Work ethic/self-discipline
4.    Written communication
5.    Critical thinking/problem solving

Communication and collaboration are interpersonal skills and top both lists.  Children develop these skills the same way they develop athletic or academic skills – through practice.  Learning to persuade another person or how to organize a group of people happens through experimentation and repetition, just like a good tennis forehand or playing a Mozart piano sonata.

Interpersonal skills are developed face-to-face, not on Facebook, not by playing video games and not by texting.

It is scary because our teens are becoming addicted to technology and social media.  Consider these two facts:
•    Research by the Kaiser Family Foundation, finds that the average American teen spend 53 hours per week interacting with an electronic screen.  Where does this time come from?  Kids are generally studying as much as our generation did and playing the same amount of organized sports.  However, they are interacting with peers less and free playing outside much less.  Simply put, the vast majority of these “technology”  hours are taken from the time kids used to “practice” interpersonal skills, playing with friends outdoors.
•    Pew Research and the Neilson Company discovered that the average teen sends 3,339 text per month and spends 95 minutes a day texting.

If, as our two research studies convincingly argue, interpersonal skills are the key to success in the modern workplace, then these trends are deeply disturbing.    At a time in history when our children should be strengthening their communication, collaboration and leadership skills (another skill in huge deficit), they are instead turning to their phones, I-pads, and computers.

In short, time spent immersed in technology is depriving our kids of the very skills needed to succeed in a technological world.

We believe the Adventure Treks experience is almost the perfect environment to combat this technology-driven communication breakdown.  In his new book “Homesick and Happy”, New York Times bestselling author Michael Thompson notes that campers send no texts, play no video games and watch no TV. “In the space created [by the absence of technology], flows a bunch of old-fashioned human behaviors: eye-to-eye contact, physical affection, spontaneous running and jumping or simple wandering”.  Oddly, these are the activities that cultivate the skills children need in a wired world. Adventure Treks is about connection, community, and communication.  We collaborate and address challenges creatively.

Adventure Treks is the only experience we are aware of where teens will gladly give up their phones for days or even a month at a time and still enjoy themselves.  In fact, we frequently hear from teenagers that they welcome a holiday from the demands of social media. When they return home, they will pick up their phones again, but we see three important differences in our Adventure Treks students compared to other teens.  First, they tend to use electronics less.  They have lived life separated from the electronic umbilical cord and loved it.  Second, they know they can be spectacular without these devices.  They have something big in their life called Adventure Treks that remains a reference point of fun and friends. Finally, they have become more effective communicators, better friends and more skilled leaders than their peers who stayed home.  Every year, we hear a litany of campers saying that “I am not sure what happened, but I found that I was the captain/drum major/leader” of my organization. They go on to attend great colleges. College placement for Adventure Treks students often exceeds that of the most elite college prep schools.

This generation may never be as good as their grandparents at interpersonal interactions. We’ve heard recently  that this has been called the “head down” generation because they are always absorbed in a screen. Of course, they are significantly more skilled in technology than their grandparents.  Yet it is these interpersonal skills that are most important and are most in deficit.  Our children do not necessarily have to be as good as their grandparents, but if we want them to be primed for success in their relationships and careers they need to develop strong interpersonal skills.

We know of no better place than Adventure Treks where children will gladly leave electronics behind and embrace face to face communication! So while your child is rafting, hiking, climbing or just hanging out in the woods with new friends and mentors, know they are also working on the interpersonal skills that are  easier to develop at Adventure Treks than at home!

We can’t wait for Adventure Treks to open and our students to arrive!

John Dockendorf, Executive Director

This blog was written in partnership with Steve Baskin, Director of Camp Champions and National Treasurer of the American Camping Association.  Steve is our friend and partner in our Camp Pinnacle venture. He is a self proclaimed camp – geek and one of the most influential thinkers in the camping community. He is a contributor and writer  for Psychology Today.


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