On Monday night at camp, three-fourths of the students raised their hands. Interesting! I believe even more would have raised their hands on Thursday if they would have been asked the same question.

930 middle school and high school students from one church spent last week at camp together. They were without phones or other handheld devices. I was so glad to be there to speak.

Mud pit. Unique slides and other activities in the lake. Mountain biking. Crate stacking. Zip line. Rappelling. Riflery. Slip ‘n Slide. Archery. Orienteering. Hiking. Super swing. So much more.

Laughter. Learning. Questions. Smiles. Curiosity. Note taking. Bibles open. Many “ah-ha” reactions and victories. Small group discussions.

Intimacy. Authenticity. Trust. Team building. Joy. Unity.

Worship. Hands raised. Heads bowed. Prayers. Teaching. Discipleship. Salvation decisions!

Hugs. Support. Friendships continued. Friendships begun.

No phones or hand-held devices.

During Sunday night’s first teaching time with the pastor, he told the high school students they may have physical withdrawal responses to not having their phones with them for the week. They laughed as he modeled the body reacting to the ding on the phone that indicates a message arrived.

Students were challenged to be fully present during camp activities and teaching times.

Twenty-four hours later, after students had enjoyed talking during meals, taking their first classes, and participating in a day of camp activities, the pastor asked how many were glad to not have their phone. About 75% of the students quickly raised their hands.

I wasn’t surprised. Kids can quickly discover what they’re missing. Freedom, real connections, focus, presence, fun, and more. And, like us, they enjoy not being tethered to phones that appear to be in charge of our every move. I challenged them to remember this when arriving home.

If teens are willing to try it, they’ll discover it doesn’t take repelling and mountain biking to satisfy them. There are many ways they can engage their minds and hearts to be satisfied staying off their electronic devices. Today I’m praying these students and more may enjoy the fresh air in their home town and discover they can exercise in their neighborhoods and feel better. I pray they’ll reach out to friends and arrange to get together in person.

I’ve told many parents we shouldn’t assume our kids want to be as connected to and through technology as they’ve become. If we give them a chance, they might discover more of life disconnected to tech and connected to us and others. They might disagree when we propose a plan, but agree with us later. We must be willing to handle some push-back and complaining at first. We must be willing to put our devices down, too. It’s worth it because our kids are worth it.

Try it.

All photos by the immensely talented Wayne Stratton.