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Video game addiction? Unique summer camp on South Coast offers up digital detox of teenagers

Teeangers at the Reset Summer Camp in Montecito are taking part in things like cooking classes as they experience alternatives to video games. It's an effort to get them to reduce their screen time.
Teens at the Reset Summer Camp in Montecito are taking part in things like cooking classes as they experience alternatives to video games. It's an effort to get them to reduce their screen time.

Families hit the reset button with "Reset Summer Camp," a clinical camp in Montecito to help teens reduce their screen time to reasonable levels.

Several teenagers are in the middle of a cooking class at a summer camp in Montecito. The teens seem to be enjoying themselves, which is remarkable because none of them actually wanted to be here.

"My mom made me go," said one of the half dozen students in this cooking class.

This is the Reset Summer Camp, a four-week-long summer camp to help teens get help for digital addiction. You could call it digital detox.

"My son, who is now in his 30's, when he was a teenager he was addicted to World of Warcraft... that was his game of choice. His mother and I had to white knuckle him through high school, and there was no such program to send him to," said Michael Jacobus.

He's Executive Director of Reset Summer Camp, which is taking place on the Westmont College campus. Jacobus says it’s a month-long camp designed for 14 to 18-year-olds. Jacobus has made a career out of running various summer camps, but he said the digital detox camp concept came about five years ago.

Anika Montoya is one of the teens in the digital detox program. The 14-year-old admits her parents signed her up for the program because of her heavy video game play.

"I was kind of drafted into it," said Montoya.

Can she stick to reducing her video game play?

"It's been pretty easy... we're on a schedule... and they have us pretty busy."

She says she'll go back to playing games, but at a reduced level.

Jack Sexton says his parents sent him out from Texas. He feels he kept his video game play in check, but his parents disagreed. Sexton says after his initial nervousness, the camp has turned out to be fun.

Camp officials say there’s no questions the kids come into the camp not wanting to be here.

"None of them arrived as willing participants," said Jacobus.

"Reset is a four week program. We have a three-to-one camper to staff ratio. A typical summer camp might be eight-to-twelve to one," said Jacobus.

They also have two full-time therapists who stay at the camp, working with the kids individually and in groups.

A typical camp has about two dozen teens. It's not cheap, with the tab for the month running more than $8,000.

The program starts with improving the kids lifestyles. Gamers normally stay up late to play, and eat junk food while playing. The camp participants have to be in their rooms by 9 p.m., and get up at 6:30 in the morning. Gaming is also replaced with a number of activities like cooking classes, and outdoor events like hikes and trips to the beach.

Jacobus said they’ve seen the digital addiction problem grow during the pandemic. He said it’s not surprising, since kids were being directed to computers for virtual classes, meaning yet more screen time.

Jacobus said the end goal isn’t to stop teens from playing video games, but to do it in a reasonable way.

"It's moderation. We will never tell them to not play a video game, or not be on social media, because that's not realistic for the world we live in," said Jacobus.

"We tell them to have a healthy balance, between home, and school, and family, and video is in there somewhere."

Lance Orozco has been News Director of KCLU since 2001, providing award-winning coverage of some of the biggest news events in the region, including the Thomas and Woolsey brush fires, the deadly Montecito debris flow, the Borderline Bar and Grill attack, and Ronald Reagan's funeral.