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New NC camp offers hope for youngsters addicted to phone, TV screens

A new camp in the mountains of North Carolina caters to teens and young people whose lives are controlled by an addiction to screens, including cell phones, computers or television.

Posted Updated

Amanda Lamb
, WRAL reporter
MARS HILL, N.C. — According to statistics, 92 percent of adults now have cellphones, and it's estimated that many Americans devote as much as 10 hours a day looking at screens, including cellphones, television and computer monitors.
A sizable number of U.S. residents didn't even grow up with this technology.

So, what does this mean for youngsters, whose lives have been dominated by technology since their birth?

It's not good news: 24 percent of teens report being online during all of their waking hours between all of the devices they have.

Screen time raises concern

The hours spent in front of or looking at screens has some parents worried about how to get their children off their phones. Mental health professionals say the screen time is becoming a true addiction, just as powerful as alcohol or drugs.

A new camp in the mountains of North Carolina is attracting teens from all over the country to help them detox from technology.

The Summerland Camp in Mars Hill is about getting youngsters to participate in offline activities.

"It was difficult at first, but everybody is here for a reason," said Blake Schorsch, who is at the camp to get help. The 18-year-old from Chicago admits to spending at least four hours a day online, mostly playing video games.

He gave up sports, and his grades plummeted.

"I didn't do very well in my last semester of senior year," Schorsch said. "I failed my math class, and I want to be a math teacher, so that's not going to look good."

North Carolina camp offers hope

Mandy Bradley, director of the camp, said: "The obsession with digital media is kind of an epidemic right now. It's interfering with our everyday life."

During one of the ceremonies held at the camp, leaders implored attendees to take the stay seriously.

"All we look for while you're here is improvement," one of the camp leaders said during a fireside chat. "Everyone has different start lines, (and) everyone has a different finish line. All we ask is that you are trying."

Alex Marrero is a parent who sought out help for his son, Andrew.

"He would just spend hours and hours" on the computer, said Marrero about his son. "We would try to put some time limits around it, and that was always a fight and always a struggle."

"It has an impact on the entire family," said Andrew's mother, Barbie Marrero.

The couple, who live in Atlanta, had run out of ways to curb his technology addiction.

"It's very real," Alex Marrero says. "Very real."

His wife agrees.

"He doesn't have the social cues now because they are constantly on their devices all of the time," Barbie Marrero said. "They're not talking one-on-one."

After spending six weeks at the $1,000-a-week camp, Andrew has come a long way.

"I learned how much patience I have," he said. "I've learned what really bugs me and what pushes me to the limit."

Camp participants face an initial detox that involves a complete disconnect, then a gradual reintroduction.

"We go through a week or two of detox where they don't have any technology at all," Bradley said. "And then we slowly reintegrate that technology into their life and make them responsible for the first time they're using it."

Learning new habits

Campers fill their time participating in activities and practicing social skills.

During an interview with WRAL News, Blake, a teen participating in the event, received a text but ignored it.

Staffers at the camp try to boost the teens' confidence by helping them realize that there is more life in face-to-face interaction as opposed to being glued to a screen all the time.

"There's still that need on a basic human level for human interaction," Bradley said. "That will never go away."

The teachers in the program work with parents to help them to continue to support their children when they return home from camp.

One of the things parents must do themselves, however, is to limit their own screen time in front of their children so as to model good behavior for their youngsters.

"You're never going to get away from it," Bradley said. "It's always going to be there, so we have to learn to use it productively."

Teens who have already been diagnosed with things like ADHD, obsessive-compulsive disorder, Asperger's or bipolar disorder are more susceptible to screen addiction, according to mental health experts. The camp in North Carolina caters to a range of kids with different abilities, but its goal with each camper is the same: show them there's a better use of their time.


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