Summer is finally here. And, after months of dreaming about how pleasant it would be to have no schedule, no school lunches and no homework, it has become clear that summer for parents of tweens or teens will likely involve weeks fighting over how much screen time is too much.

By Christina Wood

It’s time for summer camps–horseback riding, swimming or sitting in front of a screen. Wait. What?

If you are panicking about teens who are on their screens “almost constantly” (which most are, according to Pew Internet) and the effects on their mental health and wellbeing, you might reflexively say no to tech summer camp. It certainly doesn’t seem like the logical solution to this argument over screen time.

But a summer camp that teaches tech is nothing like sitting alone in your room immersed in social media or watching Netflix. Instead of viewing that screen time your kids are in as pure evil, you could instead view it as the flicker of an interest worth developing. Instead of watching them consume technology and media, why not teach them to create it?

“Many parents may regard tech camps as dull,” says Caroline Knorr, Senior Parenting Editor at Common Sense Media. “But they can spark a passion for creating. Tech camps teach kids how to achieve their vision through an iterative building process. And the building process itself is good for teaching concepts that apply to real life, such as cause and effect, ‘if-then’ planning, and even failure (and figuring out where things went wrong).”

Choose a camp that suits your needs, come up with an after-camp plan so they don’t come home and get right back on a screen. You will feel good about turning that screen-time argument into a win for avoiding summer slide, making new friends, learning a creative pastime, and, hopefully, sparking an interest that could lead to a lifelong passion.

Here are seven camps that will do all of that–at least for a few days this summer.

Digital Media Academies

Aside from the great courses offered–coding, artificial intelligence, robotics and engineering, 3D modeling, music, film, game design and photography–these camps offer something that is very difficult for the average parent to offer their child: a realistic idea of what it’s like to go to college. We often lean very hard on the need to go to college, as parents, and not hard enough on the joy of living in a place where every day is dedicated to feeding your mind.

The tech education here is the real deal, born out of an initiative from Stanford University in 1999. It has grown over the years –with many of the campers growing up to become instructors–and expanded to universities across the U.S. The option to stay overnight, sleep in the dorms, eat in the cafeteria, and even spend the weekend on campus (all for additional fees) make this the closest thing a young kid can get to experiencing a college-level technical education at a prestigious university. So, if you are looking to motivate a lackluster digital native to do better in school so she can spend four years like this, look here.

Info: digitalmediaacademy.org

ID Tech Camps

One of the longest operating and expansive of the serious tech camps out there, ID Tech camps operate on college campuses and other locations across the U.S. There are also locations in Asia and the UK, if you’re looking for a camp that also includes travel.

These are an immersive experience for kids, who come away learning a real skill–and an experience they won’t forget. The skills might be in digital photography, building a laptop, coding, or building and training a robot. But it will also be in putting hands on state-of-the-art equipment and software and learning from people who know how to use it. There are day camps, but, for the real experience, kids can stay for the week, sleep in a college dorm, eat in the college cafeteria and pretend to be a brilliant college student studying technology. If reality begins with play, this is the sort of experience that can lead to a fascinating future reality.

Info: idtech.com

Alexa Café

The world of tech needs women, desperately. But the world where we live does not encourage girls to consider themselves technical. According to a Microsoft study, girls interest in technical fields begins to drop off in middle school because of the society around them. This camp aims to separate the boys from the girls so the girls can get their own nerd on, without feeling like their brand of technical is lesser. This is a technical camp for girls only. It is run by the excellent people at ID Tech Camp, operates on campuses around the U.S and offers the same course subjects but for girls only and with a focus on mentoring from the staff of smart, technical and adult female instructors.

Info: idtech.com/alexa-cafe

DigiGirlz High Tech Camp

Microsoft’s DigiGirlz High Tech Summer Camps are also an effort at fixing the problem of girls being told that tech is not for them. Send your girl to the many locations across the country, so she can meet female executives who have found a place in technology and meet other women and girls who share their interest–or spark one–to learn to build and create new technologies. This camp has been operating since 2000 and is constantly changing and evolving with the girls who attend and the technology that exists.

Info: microsoft.com/en-us/diversity/programs/digigirlz/hightechcamp.aspx

Free Camps at Microsoft Stores

The problem with most tech camps is the price. It’s not cheap to send a kid away to study–safely and with constant supervision–at a prestigious university. Microsoft has an answer to that one: make it free.

If there is a Microsoft store near you, it’s quite possible that there is also a free summer camp for your kids offered there. How does a Harry Potter Creative Coding Workshop sound? How about a Summer Gaming League Camp? Or a camp where kids learn to build computer games or robots? There is even a camp that will teach your teen how to be an entrepreneur. And they are all free!

Info: microsoft.com/en-us/store/locations/events-for-students

YMCA Stem Camps

Your local YMCA might be getting in on the tech summer camp trend. Over 1,000 YMCAs across the country are teaching robotics, LEGO Mindstorms, game design, engineering and more. These happen year-round, in some locations, not just in the summer. Check with your local Y for details. There might be a great tech summer camp right there.

Info: ymca.net/STEM

Code Ninjas

This after-school coding and STEM-teaching outfit also offers summer tech camps. Kids can go for a day or half day to learn anything from creating in Roblox to game building to robotics, (offerings vary by location). Find a location near you at their website.

Info: codeninjas.com/camps

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