March 26 2009 12:00 AM

Give me a polysyllabic, talk-show-chic therapeutic diagnosis and I’ll give you a condition so old Mark Twain wrote about it.

Nowadays they call it Nature Deficit Disorder — a disconnect between today’s computer-addicted, TV-irradiated, overfed, over-coddled kids and the great outdoors.

It’s described this way on page one of Twain’s “Huckleberry Finn.”

“It was rough living in the house all the time,” Huck writes. “The stars was shining and the leaves rustled in the woods ever so mournful. The wind was trying to whisper something to me and I couldn’t make out what it was.”

Fortunately, walls have windows.

“I slipped down to the ground and crawled in amongst the trees, and sure enough there was Tom Sawyer waiting for me.”

Young lives are regimented and bombarded with stresses and expectations, now more than in Huck’s day. Summer camp is a window thrown open to a bigger world, where at least the stresses and expectations are different.

Of course, most camps are a bit more structured than Huck Finn would have liked. You still have to “wash, and eat on a plate, and comb up, and go to bed and get up regular.”

But the principle is the same. It’s like climbing out the window and going on an adventure.

Only without getting into trouble with Pap Finn. And, there are marshmallows.

The focus of summer camp has changed over the years. In 1874, when Twain was about to write “Huckleberry Finn,” the first YWCA camp was formed. It was a summer boarding and vacation house in Pennsylvania organized for the benefit of “tired young women wearing out their lives in an almost endless drudgery for wages that admit of no thought of rest or recreation.”

Now some see the imbalance in young lives as too much recreation, or recreation of the wrong kind. According to national statistics, a child spends six hours a day in front of a TV or computer screen.

A 2007 study by the Ohio Department of Health showed that more than 34 percent of the state’s third graders were either obese or overweight.

Michigan’s kids are no exception. According to a report released in July 2008 by the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health, childhood obesity surpassed smoking and drug abuse as the No. 1 health concern for kids in Michigan.

Summer camps are great at fighting obesity, of the body or brain. The programs offered are mind-boggling in variety and emphasis. There are equestrian camps, fishing camps, archery camps, drama camps and teen leadership programs. There are history camps and camps for budding video producers. There are sports camps and fitness camps, music camps and even space camps. (Check with NASA for clearance.) There are camps for children with special needs, including the mentally retarded, blind, deaf, cancer patients andasthmatics.

No matter what the focus, kids can expect to do the usual camp stuff: canoeing, hiking, camp songs, cookouts.

In the absence of blinking, beeping reminders of civilization, there may also be time for wonder and philosophizing. Here’s
how Huck and Tom spent their time on the riverbank.

“We had the sky, up
there, speckled with stars, and we used to lay on our backs and look up
at them, and discuss about whether they was made, or only just

You have to climb out the window for that kind of show.

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