Jonathan Haidt Wants You to Take Away Your Kid’s Phone
…And So Do We

Tech-Free Summer Programs for Kids Are an Essential Counterpoint to the Barrage of Screens—and an Opportunity to Reset

By Katherine Dayton, Executive Director

If you didn’t see the Haidt article (New Yorker, April 2024) referenced above, then perhaps you read The Terrible Costs of a Phone-Based Childhood (Atlantic), saw How Cell Phones are Killing Our Kids & What We Can Do About It (CNN), or read Haidt’s book, The Anxious Generation: How the Great Rewiring of Childhood Is Causing an Epidemic of Mental Illness.

Even if you haven’t seen these stories, you’ve experienced it in your own life in one way or another. Worrying if screen time has gone too far, wondering about the short- and long-term repercussions of tech on kids,or pondering childhoods of previous decades when things were simpler and play was lighter, face to face.

VISIONS Cambodia (Retired Program Site)

We noticed a shift in many parents’ outlook on tech a few years ago. The yearning to be in touch with kids became outweighed by the desire to give them a break from screens. It’s been a relief, as we feel strongly that tech-free is the only way to truly achieve our program goals.

One of our most important goals is to provide an experience that continues to play out in positive ways after the summer is over. To be a pebble in a pond with ripples that show up as long-term fulfillment and happiness, resilience, independent thinking and empowerment.

The best part is that teens are on board. Their relief at stepping away from the pressures brought forth through screens is palpable. It’s like the sun comes out. They share their feelings about this during group meetings and in post-program evaluations.


It Takes a Village

Parents and educators can be a powerful village. Unfortunately, social media and whatever else is on the screen has also become a dominant village member, which serves up addiction, mental health degradation, skewed views of reality and constant comparison of self to others.

For us, it would be a shame to work hard at providing high quality summer programs that have to compete with screens. Kids’ attention would be divided. Leaders would have to manage issues or drama that have nothing to do with the program. In short, it would provide less of an experience than what we feel is important for teens’ growth and development.

VISIONS can be an important part of kids’ lives and the “village member” that many families have been looking for.

VISIONS Dominican Republic

What Does Tech-Free Mean?

For VISIONS, it means having kids make a quick call home when picked up by leaders at the airport, then turning in devices until returning to the airport on the last day. It also means that our leaders are focused on the kids instead of providing regular blog articles or fielding phone calls that aren’t program related.

VISIONS posts updates on social pages a few times a week and we are in touch if needed for any situation. Other than that, everyone is busy enjoying the richness of the community while learning how to do service projects and spending time outside.



  • No Devices, Anytime = Tech Free

Many Alternative Programs:

  • Phones Only at Nighttime or Breaks ≠ Tech Free
  • Having Participants Collectively Agree on Phone Policy ≠ Tech Free

VISIONS Montana Blackfeet

Comments From Teens and Parents

“My VISIONS experience was the opposite of what I was expecting, for all the right reasons. I’ve never been so comfortable with a group of people. I’ve never been happier and worry free in my life. Being away from technology and being cut off from the rest of the world can sound horrible when I describe it to my friends at home, but I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.”

—Caroline Fox

“The lack of phones seemed like it would be challenging, but it made my trip much more enjoyable and allowed me to get to know everyone better.” 

—Robby Phillips

“Thank you for providing a clean air, free of technology, free of judgment summer for my daughter.” 

—Michell Abitbol

“Mine is a different child. It is like she grew 10 years. The degree of confidence she is exhibiting is unbelievable. Her insight is remarkable. I could not thank you enough for this chance and I can’t be thankful enough for the departure from her ex dear phone!” 

—Maria Rosen

“We had hoped for a few things to happen through this experience:

1) greater independence — for Katie to step outside of her comfort zone and challenge herself

2) better understanding of others and her relationship to the world around her

3) distance from cell phones and chance to connect with people and place personally.

VISIONS helped her to accomplish all three. She developed friendships on a deeper level, she learned a great deal about Native American culture, she overcame several fears and returned home more confident, mature, and thoughtful.”

—Whitney Bryce

See more we’ve written about screen-free summers: Top Ten Ways to Live Without Technology.

VISIONS in The New York Times