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Cell phones and youth: Safety or dependance?
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As the buses pulled out for Rock Eagle 4-H Center, parents waved and blinked back tears.

I know about the tears because several parents had pulled me to the side asking for assurances about camp, already fighting tears.

The 4-H'ers, however, had no time for tears. They immediately started peppering me with questions:

"When are we going to eat?"

"Is the pool slide really that big?"

"What time do we have to go to bed?"

"Can I do anything I want at camp?"

I was ready to change my name as I heard it every two seconds.

Three busloads of fifth and sixth graders, 97 in all, were ready for a week of 4-H camp at the world's largest youth center with 850 other children.

Many had only been away to a friend's slumber party for a single night.

At that age, five days of getting to choose my own clothes, toss my vegetables in the trash bin and run around without even brushing my hair sounded like heaven.

The kids on the bus hadn't changed much in 19 years. They were eagerly planning which friends wanted to bunk together and what shirts they'd all wear tomorrow.

However, unlike my camping days, these kids expected to be able to use their cell phones.

Parents and children alike complained about the no cell phone rule.

Cell phones are a lifesaver when you're stuck on the side of the road with a flat tire or a broken down bus.

Yet we all know how annoying it is to hear someone talking loudly in line about personal problems, or to hear phones in the middle of a ceremony.

It makes me wish we required cell phone education classes and licenses.

In the same way, perhaps we should reconsider children with cell phones.

When soccer practice lets out early, you want your child to be able to call.

However, when a child is having a hard time going to sleep, is hungry because he chose not to eat dinner or wants to complain that another child hit them with a pillow -what response should we expect from a pre-teen?

While it may be comforting to that parent, still sniffling over their baby growing up, to know her child still turns to her with problems, camp is the perfect opportunity for youth to learn to cope with their own problems.

By this age, we believe 4-H'ers are capable of evaluating a situation, considering options, and choosing a solution.

No, 11-year-olds are not always going to choose the right option, but camp is a safe environment in which to test out problem-solving skills.

Some kids believe that swimming is a substitute for showers. Rather than force him to shower, his own smell or the comments from others will usually serve as a much better lesson.

One girl looked homesick when she asked to call her mom. I tried to explain that you'll only get more homesick if you call home, but who wants to believe an adult?

Another 10-year-old girl, whose parents had expressed worry since her best friend could not attend camp, reached over and patted the girl on the shoulder.

"She's right. When I get homesick at a friend's house, calling home just makes me cry more," the girl assured the first child.

Tears threatened to spill out of my eyes. This is what youth development and 4-H are all about. This is why I come to work every day excited about the changes I can make in the life of a child.

Given the opportunity to think on their own, these two girls were learning not only to deal with their own emotions, but reaching out to help each other.

I've been through countless hours of training on the essential elements of youth development, but words like "independence" and "generosity" on paper don't carry the same power as a single moment like this.

After camp, I was sleepy, bruised and sunburned. I questioned my sanity for spending a week with 950 pre-teens.

But next June, I won't hesitate to jump on the bus to Burton 4-H Center on Tybee Island with campers as they discover a that independence for themselves mixed in with all the marsh exploration, crab catching, erosion testing, swimming... and yes, driving me a little batty.

Terri Kimble is the Program Specialist with Newton County 4-H, serving youth ages 9-19. She can be reached at or (770) 784-2010.