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Ditch the phone and relax: time for a digital detox

Image of young boy with kayaks at Buntzen Lake

Go device-free at resorts, backcountry trips and summer camps

Posted by Rob Klovance

What does a kid do when you take away his or her electronic devices for a day, or even a week?

If it's at Sasamat Outdoor Centre, where there's a ban on smartphones and iPods for campers, that really depends on the kid. Asked to name their favourite activity at camp, you get a range of responses.

"Running across the kayaks!," says Olivier, 13, describing a favourite camp trick known as "piano keys."

"Archery — archery was awesome," says his 11-year-old sister Charlotte.

"Pushing the leaders off the deck into the lake," chimes in Lisa.

"Eating," says a second Olivier, with a smile.

The kids admit that after a few days minus their devices, they start to crave a little TV, Clash of Clans or Minecraft. But they all seem to survive what some may call a Digital Detox, a temporary but somewhat cleansing escape from electronics. And while the people who run Sasamat Outdoor Centre, located just north of Port Moody on Sasamat Lake, don't use the term Digital Detox, it's gaining momentum as a vacation choice.

B.C.'s Echo Valley Ranch and Spa offers Digital Detox retreat packages for adults and families with a focus on getting away from it all. But they still allow for emails to be checked. Other families get their detox by doing backcountry camping, sometimes for multiple days. And kids camps across B.C. have been enforcing unofficial digital detoxes for decades.

This month, BC Hydro's Team Power Smart is celebrating the digital detox by giving away three Mountain Equipment Co-op gift cards, for $200, $150 and $100 in our members-only contest for June. If you're a member, log in to your Member Tool Box and enter today. If not, take a couple minutes to join Team Power Smart.

At Sasamat, breaking free can be tougher for parents than for kids

Bronco Cathcart has been with the Sasamat Outdoor Centre for more than 23 years, and the no-devices policy has been part of Sasamat the whole time. As executive director, he's fully supportive of it because he thinks the break from electronics forces kids to connect on a more personal basis.

"We don't want kids to interact by texting each other in camp," he says.

Sasamat has experienced very little pushback on the no-devices policy, in part, he says, because there are so many activities at the camp that the kids — the age range is 4 to 16 — are engaged throughout the day, and tend to be pretty sleepy when night falls.

The few complaints he gets are usually from parents who find it tough not to connect with their kids throughout the week. When kids bring devices, staff take the device away, explain why they're doing it, and hand it back to the kid at camp's end.

"There are parents who feel they really need to get in touch with their kids, more than the kids need to be in touch with their parents," he says, with a chuckle. "Homesick kids here are usually over it by the first day. Homesick parents sometimes don't get over it at all."

Asked whether he has experienced a personal digital detox, Cathcart admits that for most of the year — including weekends — his smartphone is a necessity in his work with Camp Sasamat. It makes him relish his occasional escape from the tyranny of the digital.

"I take trips sometimes up to the Chilcotin, where phones don't work," he says. "And that's perfect by me."

Considering a digital detox? Here are some resources and ideas that might work for you.

Rob Klovance is managing editor of bchydro.com.