Anything Goes

Longacre announces new technology policy for 2013

This is the 1st part in a 4-part series about Longacre’s new technology policy, Anything Goes. You will find the other three parts here: Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4.

This summer we will implement a new technology policy at Longacre Leadership. Without further ado … we proudly present, Anything Goes. Smartphones, music players, tablets, e-readers, even laptops—they’re all fair game, all the time. The era of No Devices is over.

As you pick up your jaw off the floor, we’ll take a minute to explain our logic. We’ll start with some disadvantages; then we’ll name the elephant in the room; then we’ll discuss some advantages that are impossible to ignore; and finally we’ll walk back the all-the-time statement (above), a concession we’re making to ensure the community-building process starts off on the right foot.

Before we begin, please know that this is not a decision we made lightly. For evidence, we point to the fact that it’s January, already half way through the recruiting season. We delayed this decision for months as we consulted others in the industry (and some in adjacent industries) and weighed the various arguments.

The Disadvantages

Of course, this technology conversation did not begin in 2013. We have been grappling with it to various degrees since the 1990s. The most recent iteration began right after last summer. Things had come to a head. And yes, there are disadvantages to Anything Goes. Here are the five that concern us the most:

  • Isolation. The first few days of a summer program are anxiety-producing, especially when you don’t know anyone. It requires that students reach out, take some risks and begin the bonding process. With devices available, we are afraid that kids will isolate themselves, because being with your device is easier than making anxious conversation.
  • Staying up late. As we put the kids to bed, we ask them to put down their books, turn off their lights, and finish up their conversations. Throwing devices into the mix will complicate things. Teenagers who are sleep-deprived have less energy, less patience, and are less able to challenge themselves.
  • Disparities. Some students will not have devices, either because their parents cannot afford them or because their parents do not approve of them. This new policy will call attention to disparities.
  • Liability. What if the devices are lost, stolen, or damaged?
  • Inappropriate use. This is self-explanatory.

At this point, a reasonable person might say, “Those are some pretty significant disadvantages. Why are you making this decision??”

Well, in large part because of the elephant in the room.

The Elephant in the Room

Truth is, parents and kids are demanding it. In 2013, asking students to go without their devices—and asking parents to be out of touch with their kids—is unrealistic.

Last summer one of our staff remarked, “These kids may never again go four weeks without a device—for the rest of their lives.” It’s a startling statement. And probably true.

The Advantages

That’s not to say we’re going into this kicking and screaming. Fact is, there are some real advantages to Anything Goes. The first two are pretty straightforward:

  • The music scene at the farm has declined since CDs fell out of fashion. Sad, but true. No Devices meant no iPods, which meant less music. Sure, students were allowed to bring CDs, but if only a few kids bring CDs, we’re listening to the radio, A LOT OF RADIO, which means enough Top 40 to drive you batty. Devices will restore the music scene. And thank goodness.
  • Since smartphones took over, there have been fewer and fewer cameras on the farm. No Devices never included cameras, but if your only camera was on your phone, you were out of luck. Devices will remedy this.

The next one is a little more nuanced:

  • We recently announced our new MiniCamp for 8-11 year olds. In the announcement we wrote, “A child may challenge himself in one moment and need to be reassured the next.” This is true for teenagers too, albeit to a lesser extent. Truth is, some teenagers are challenged from the moment they arrive: 1) they’re away from their parents, 2) they’re away from home, 3) they’re away from creature comforts, and 4) they’re surrounded by 90 people they don’t know. Maybe, if they’re feeling tired, spending a few minutes alone with a device will provide some comfort, thus giving them the courage to challenge themselves a little later on.

And the biggest advantage of going no-holds-barred:

  • We now have the opportunity to help our kids find some balance with their devices.

This may not be news, but Longacre is not set up to police its kids. It’s just not how we run our program—keeping things from them. We do not enflame the us-versus-them dynamic. We talk about building community, about pitching in. We don’t have a system for demerits, or privileges. We deal with stuff through coaching. Sure, we have rules, but the big ones are there for safety reasons: no sex, no drugs, no alcohol, no tobacco, etc. No Devices just isn’t on the same plane. It’s inconsistent with our philosophy.

What is consistent with our philosophy is helping teenagers find balance in their lives; teaching teenagers to live with their devices in ways that are appropriate and healthy; helping them discover that in-person connections can be more substantive and more rewarding than e-connections.

And we are fully prepared for this. We are fully committed to teaching teenagers about balance. We won’t skip a beat. Maybe, after a summer at Longacre, a student’s relationship with her device will have matured a little. Maybe, finding-balance-with-my-device will become just another skill you develop at the farm. Wouldn’t that be remarkable? Wouldn’t that be something that benefits her for years and years?

No Devices was awesome, without a doubt. It was simple. It was a clear boundary for staff and kids. And (maybe most of all) it was our tradition.

No, this was not an easy decision. This is not the route we hoped to take.

But Longacre is a place where you develop skills to apply in your real life. It was never meant to be a Neverland. Fact is, regular access to technology has become the norm. And so, in our Longacre way, we will embrace it, and we will help our teenagers find balance with their devices.

The Concession

Ok, one concession: no devices in the first week. Ha. We will collect all devices—smartphones, music players, tablets, e-readers, and laptops—and hold them for one week. Then we’ll give them back.

Our rationale is, it is imperative that the community-building process start off on the right foot. The prospect of ubiquitous devices is too threatening to the bonding that happens in that first week, especially in those first 48 hours. Too much at stake.

The Notes

One, we will have to add a form to the spring packet, a waiver. All students and parents will now be required to sign a waiver that says something to the effect of, “I understand that my electronic devices may be lost, stolen, damaged, etc.” This is a farm. We’re in the woods. There’s dirt. And water. It’s not an environment friendly to devices.

Two, the students will not need their devices for anything. We provide a dedicated phone line for toll-free calls; there will always be the good ol’ U.S. Postal Service; and when we’re out in public, the buddy system still applies, just like it did last year, and the year before that, and the year before that, and the year before that.

Suffice it to say that we will encourage families to go without their devices.

We are sure there will be questions, and we welcome them. You can contact us at 717-567-3349 or, or you can follow the conversation on Facebook.

Thanks for reading.

-Susan, Louise and Matt

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