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Gen-Z relieved to escape their smartphones for several weeks, study suggests

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Posted at 2:44 PM, Mar 22, 2018
and last updated 2018-03-22 14:44:36-04

CINCINNATI -- Members of Generation Z are relieved when placed in a situation where they are unable to access their smartphones for several weeks, according to a study conducted by Screen Education, a non-profit organization that addresses smartphone addiction, and Camp Livingston, a Cincinnati-based summer camp for Jewish children and teens. 

The study involved 62 participants, ages 12 to 16, who spent two to four weeks at Camp Livingston during summer 2017. Because Camp Livingston does not permit its campers to bring smartphones with them, they are an ideal group for conducting research about refraining from smartphone use.

"Many children said they have become overwhelmed by their smartphones. They no longer can keep up with all their notifications, and they are burdened by the 'drama' they encounter through social media via their smartphones," said Michael Mercier, president of Screen Education. "Consequently, they were relieved to be separated from their smartphones because it eliminated that stress."

This relief was reflected in a survey conducted with the campers after they had returned home. The campers were asked the extent to which they experienced feelings of gladness and frustration from being without their phones.

"A large number − 92 percent − experienced gladness, while only 41 percent felt any frustration. We had expected the opposite," Mercier said.

When asked what their experience would have been like had they been allowed to bring their phones to camp, campers revealed just how severe smartphone addiction is among their age group.

"They almost unanimously admitted they would have spent the entire time on their phones," said Max Yamson, executive director of Camp Livingston. "They said they would not have formed deep relationships with the staff and fellow campers, would not have connected with their surroundings and nature on the same level and would not have engaged as much in recreational activities." 

Many campers discussed the experience of face-to-face communication as though it were a novel one, Mercier said. He said they exhibited a sense of discovery at learning that face-to-face communication is far superior to screen communication when it comes to building friendships and getting to know other people.

"One camper said that in four short weeks she got to know her friends at camp better than she knows some of her friends at home — because she mostly communicates with her friends at home through screens," Yamson said.

Other key findings include:

  • 92 percent said it was beneficial to have gone without their phones while at camp
  • 83 percent considered having gone without their phones for several weeks to be an important life experience
  • 35 percent were successful at curbing their smartphone use after leaving camp
  • 17 percent tried to influence a friend to spend less time on their phone after leaving camp

The researchers plan to follow this study up with additional research during summer 2018.

Screen Education is a Cincinnati-based non-profit organization that is dedicated to mitigating the negative consequences of screen addiction through research, education and consulting. It has conducted numerous studies on smartphone addiction and has presented its findings at a variety of conferences.    

Camp Livingston (Robert Krohn Livingston Memorial Camp) is a non-profit overnight Jewish summer camp located in Bennington, Indiana. With home offices located in Cincinnati, Camp Livingston serves children aged 7 to 17 from communities throughout the United States and abroad with a variety of on-site and off-site programs.