Saturday, March 23, 2024
Reset Summer Camp takes kids from the isolated virtual world of gaming to the real world of friends, fun and life skills, where memories are made.
By Robert Gad for The National Business Post
May 18, 2023
According to Techjury, 50% of teenagers in the United States consider themselves addicted to their smartphones. This age group spends more than seven hours a day in front of a screen, and 12% of teen boys are addicted to video games.
If you are a parent of a teenager, you are most likely living with these numbers every day. It can be overwhelming for anyone trying to separate a teen from their devices.
However, an update from the World Health Organization in 2018 caught the eye of Michael Jacobus, who discovered that the organization was adding “gaming disorder” to its list of known addictive disorders.
Six years ago, the 50-year-old Jacobus believed he may have a way to help parents help their teens break free from this addiction. It centered on an experience he discovered when he was eight years old.
The experience was summer camp.
Growing up in northern California, Jacobus was first enrolled in Camp Lodestar’s one-week sleep-over session.
Founder and Executive Director, Michael Jacobus
He had a bit of a rocky start.
“I had a little separation anxiety at drop-off time and was hiding behind my mother, not wanting to go,” he remembers. “A little convincing from the camp director changed my mind, and I was on my way.”
After the first experience, he never looked back.
Jacobus continued to attend summer camps multiple times as a camper, then moved up the ladder as a counselor in training, a counselor, head counselor, and eventually camp director.
This journey became a vocation as he found his passion in life. He ran various church and Boy Scout camps, and as a scout, he earned the coveted Eagle Scout rank. He would be a part of the summer fun for 35 years.
Ready to retire from camping—after his work as executive director of The Irvine Ranch Outdoor Educational Center in Orange, California—the World Health Organization’s disorder claim about gaming addition changed his plans.
He thought: Why not create a camp that would give teens the experience of being on their own, learning new life skills while building confidence? They would spend much time outside in fresh air and in a fun-filled atmosphere, meeting others who were addicted to their screens.
Early in this process, Jacobus knew he’d need a clinical psychologist as his clinical director. So he placed an ad and found Shelly Gutensohn, a special education teacher who was working with a charter school that provides high school services in the L.A. County jail.
“I decided to break off and started my own private practice working with people who are coming out of being incarnated,” Gutensohn says. “I even work with some of the past campers who wanted to continue to see me after their session.”
She would head the therapy sessions of the camp with the help of some students and be vitally important in the interview process of potential campers.
“I spend about an hour interviewing the teen and their parents,” states Gutensohn.
Along with going through a residential program with a clinical staff, the campers would be a part of group and individual therapy to help them detox from games and social media.
The four-week session was made up of 30 campers—usually comprised of 23 boys and seven girls—with a 4 to 1 camper to counselor ratio.
Jacobus and his staff put together action-packed days interwoven with therapy activities.
A typical day at Reset Summer Camp starts with a wake-up at 6:30 a.m., followed by breakfast at 7 a.m. Next are room responsibilities at 7:30 a.m. in which their entire room must be cleaned with beds made, along with doing laundry. Personal hygiene is also a must.
At 9 a.m., group therapy takes place for half of the campers—eight per group—with culinary for the other half.
Noon is lunchtime, followed by afternoon choices including improv, volleyball, yoga, swimming, and hiking. Next comes dinner, followed by evening activities including movies, meditation and star-gazing.
Wednesday is beach day for everyone, and the other half participate in group therapy Thursday and Friday.
Individual therapy is organic—meaning it may take place during a walk to the dining hall, or sitting on the beach.
“We are going to treat you like a responsible young adult while you are with us,” Jacobus explains. “When you leave us, there should be a change the home environment. It is your obligation to deal with family issues, and you need to be an advocate for yourself. Escaping into gaming will not get you what you want out of life.”
Other than one phone call home a week on Sundays, there are no contacts with any electronic devices.
They receive a wake-up call during the yearly discussion called: “What is your financial footprint?” in which they are asked questions like: What do you think rent is? How much do you think groceries cost each month? What does gas and insurance cost? How about your phone and online subscriptions?
Last summer, that number averaged $5,000 a month. The reaction: Shock!
“You are going to want to leave home one day because you don’t want to live with your parents forever,” Jacobus tells them, “You need to know how much that will cost.”
Interestingly enough, when asked what activity the campers enjoy most over the four weeks, they say the culinary sessions.
The culinary program introduces campers to food and culture
“They love to learn how to cook,” says Jacobus, adding that a local chef leads the activity three days a week. “Most of them, both the boys and the girls, will go home and create family meals.”
Not surprisingly, the beach days at east beach in Santa Barbara are a big hit.
During the final weekend, there is a family workshop in which parents are invited to join everyone at camp. The itinerary starts on Friday afternoon, and the purpose is to prepare the camper and help them plan for the transition. There is a parents’ only session, too.
Jacobus and his clinical psychologist know that without a buy-in from parents, the recovery will fail once they return home, and the temptation of long hours of gaming will loom large.
That’s why the highlight of the weekend is constructing the “Behavior Contract,” which helps the family work together to establish rules they will all agree upon. The campers write the rules during the last week of therapy, and during the parent workshop, they do final draft together before going home.
“Let them game or watch YouTube videos, but with limitation,” Jacobus advises. “Give their kids 15 minutes to wrap it up when it’s time for dinner as cortisol builds up during gaming.”
The campers not only leave with much better sleeping habits, they also understand what healthy eating and exercise can do for their body and mind. During these four weeks, they also build relationships with other campers who arrived asking: “What am I doing here?”
Another huge benefit of Reset Camp is the follow-up conducted after the campers return home. Each is paired with a counselor for check-in phone calls for eight weeks.
Unfortunately, about 15% of the families don’t follow through with the follow-up phone calls after camp.
“This is how we answer the question of…what is our success rate?” Jacobus adds. “We believe that our success rate is the 85% of the campers/families that take part in those follow-up calls.”
Another indicator of success are the campers who return as campers again, those who come back as counselors in training—and this year, several have returned as full staffers.”
As the school year now winds down to the finish line, students and parents will start looking ahead to prepare for sleep-away camp. After all, there are more than 7,000 camps to choose from in the country.
For the 23 boys and seven girls that will be heading to beautiful Santa Barbara’s Wesmont College, they’ll embark on a potentially life changing experience with the ability to detox from technology.
Michael Jacobus, Shelly Gutensohn and their talented staff are planning on it. There’s reason the camp is called “Reset”.
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