Just a few years ago I had a discussion with a parent about how often they turned on the “entertainment center” in their mini-van on for the kids.

“We only use it on trips of 2 hours or more so the kids don’t get bored with it” the parent told me.

Driving down the road, I see many vehicles, with LCD panels hanging from the ceiling, glowing all manner of cartoons and movies during the daily commute. As the cost of devices have continued to come down, small LCDs have replaced projectors on airplanes in each seatback – allowing you to watch “selected programs” or even a GPS driven image of where your flight is at any time. Electronics have become very much a part of our, and our children’s, lives. It’s pretty hard to make something special, when everything is amped up with repeats of the same DVD over and over again.

If you’re like me, you probably frown upon “tech” use while at Scouts, especially camping. We’ve asked the kids to leave the DS & iPod behind, and engage in the beauty and wonder of being outdoors.

  • As an adult, I still carry my cell phone on campouts so parents can reach me, or I can call for help if I need to.
  • During a compass course this weekend, I used my phone’s electronic compass to double check what the kids were doing on their compass.
  • While stargazing, I pulled out the Google Sky app to identify various constellations with the Scouts.
  • It sounds pretty hypocritical to be telling the kids one thing, and yet I’m obviously demonstrating ways in which technology CAN be used appropriately on an outing.

Technology can be a distraction – I wouldn’t want Scouts trying to text one another or post on Facebook – but it can also provide some level of safety, security and enjoyment as well! Having a GPS to track your trail comes in a lot of handy when you realize you’ve dropped your wallet and have to retrace your path. And without a bugler in our group I take some great manner of satisfaction being able to blow out TAPS from my phone when it is lights out.

A bit like the chicken and the egg, having clear expectations for youth that Pokemon isn’t acceptable, but an app that helps identify poisonous plants certainly could be. Troop 479 in Eden Prairie has come up with an elegant solution: the Tech Chip! http://troop479.org/techchiptraining.pdf

Scouts can earn the Tech Chip, and therefore the right to carry selected electronic devices on outings. There are some great ideas for skits and activities along with some reflective questions that make it pretty clear when or where pocket technology can be acceptable.