By Meghan Vivo
Wondering if summer camp is right for your child? Whether your teen is into sports, adventure activities, music, drama, science, or just likes to have fun, there is a camp that is perfect for you. Specialized programs also abound, including special needs summer camps, weight-loss summer camps, and wilderness camps for teens struggling in school or at home.
There are so many great reasons to send children and teens to camp. The following is just a taste of what’s in store for your teen at summer camp:
1. Fun and Lifelong Memories. Ask any adult about their summer camp experiences as a child and you’re likely to get story after story about campfires, s’mores, jokes with friends, and exposure to all sorts of new activities from rock climbing and canoeing to hiking and water sports. There are many ways a teen can spend the summer – in school, working, hanging out with friends at home, or taking a summer vacation with the family – but summer camp is by far the most creative and enriching option available.
Most kids await summer camp with anticipation, excitement, and joy, knowing that the summer holds days filled with games, activities, and new experiences. Even teens who are reluctant to go to camp will usually look back fondly on their experience and everything they learned by spending a summer away from home. Almost a rite of passage, summer camp is an experience every kid should have at least once.
Teens are natural explorers. They seek adventure and thrills in many forms – some healthy (like summer camp) and some unhealthy, such as drugs and alcohol, parties, and law-breaking. Channeling these interests in positive directions by introducing the natural high of activities like rock climbing, white water rafting, and hiking and learning new skills that are useful later in life can put once-struggling teens back on track.
2. Confidence. Teens learn a specific set of skills at home and a separate set of skills at school. Summer camp opens doors to a whole new world of skill development, as teens are presented with new situations, relationships, and challenges. New experiences such as building a fire with a bow drill, finishing a long hike, resolving a disagreement with a fellow camper, and cooking meals over a campfire create opportunities for teens to build on small successes and feel good about their accomplishments. By the end of summer, campers are ready to return to school with improved leadership and social skills, and greater confidence in their own abilities.
3. Character Building. Summer camp is a place where children and teens discover their talents, interests, and passions. Underachieving teens who attend wilderness camp realize a passion for hands-on learning and become leaders of their peer group. Teens with low self-esteem find that they excel in art, science, or another subject and bring those skills (and newfound confidence) back to school. Every experience at camp builds character, prepares teens for adult life, and contributes to the development of a well-rounded person.
4. Peer Support and a Sense of Community. At camp, teens spend day and night with a group of staff and peers who come from all over the world, from all different cultures and grow to know one another well. This closeness fosters tolerance and acceptance and creates a strong sense of community, which in turn helps teens develop a sense of belonging and teamwork. For teens struggling with emotional or behavioral issues, these skills translate to the home environment, where a sense of family cohesion is important for healthy relationships.
Struggling teens often need to get away from their negative peer group at home in order to change troublesome behavior patterns. Most wilderness camps work hard to create a positive peer culture in which campers are honest with and supportive of one another. This gives teens the confidence and experience they need to make better choices at home and reject friends or classmates who do not have their best interests at heart.
5. Educational Gains. Research shows that students generally score lower on standardized tests at the end of summer vacation than they do at the beginning of summer vacation. But the summer doesn’t have to be a vacation from learning. Many summer camps offer a variety of educational opportunities, with some even granting academic credit. Rather than spending three months completely removed from academics, summer camp creates many opportunities for hands-on learning as well as more formal instruction, ensuring a smooth transition back to school.
6. Positive Role Models. Although most teens think they are already adults, they still have a lot to learn from positive role models. At home, parents may be wonderful role models, but the average teen is far more influenced by the opinions and actions of his peers.
At camp, teens have a number of adults to look to as mentors, including field guides, residential staff, and even therapists (in the case of wilderness summer camps) who are passionate about working with teens and trained to ensure safety in every aspect of camp life. They model appropriate behaviors, healthy ways to resolve conflicts, teamwork, and service to others.
These authority figures, who spend day and night with the campers, are experts in establishing trusting bonds with adolescents and helping them learn important lessons without the resistance and attitude parents often receive. They also challenge teens to decide what kind of person they want to become and help them set and achieve their goals, while simultaneously working with parents to make significant strides at home.
7. Independence. For teens who have never been away from home, summer camp may be their first opportunity to test their skills and abilities without assistance from mom and dad. This is particularly important for adolescents who will soon embark on their transition to adulthood and college. All adolescents, particularly those who are shy, reserved, or socially withdrawn, leave summer camp with a renewed sense of personal power and independence.
8. Appropriate Risk-Taking. In order to succeed, teens have to learn to take risks – sure, they will sometimes make mistakes and fail, but camp counselors know this is often the best way to learn. Summer camps encourage teens to take calculated risks and push themselves beyond their perceived limits. Always wanted to try something new? Maybe water skiing, repelling down a cliff, spending a night alone in the wilderness, or soaring across a zip line? Summer camp will make it happen, while ensuring every camper’s safety and satisfaction. By taking risks early in life, teens learn how to achieve success even when the task seems insurmountable – and they will have a handful of experiences few others could even imagine.
9. Responsibility. Ever battle with your child to get him to make his bed? Eat breakfast? Clean up his messes? Summer camps require teens to organize their personal items, contribute to group chores, maintain their living quarters, and follow a set schedule. And surprisingly, once they get into the groove of camp life these routine tasks are not up for discussion. Teens take responsibility for their own care without debate, setting the stage for good habits and self-care at home.
10. Teamwork. Although teens tend to be fairly self-absorbed, it is possible to teach them the value of teamwork and cooperation. Summer camp takes teens away from the computer screen or television and provides them with positive face-to-face interaction. During sports events, hiking trips, ropes course initiatives, and even meal preparation, teens learn how much better daily life can be when everyone works together. When conflicts or disagreements arise, staff members are around to model healthy communication and resolution of problems. These skills are essential to every relationship the teen creates, whether at camp or at home, and are the building blocks for lasting friendships.
In addition to the countless benefits summer camp offers children and teens, it is also a rare opportunity for parents to catch up on their own lives. Rather than acting as full-time parent and chauffeur, you can read a book, spend time with your spouse or friends, and catch up on work while resting easy knowing that you are doing something wonderful for your child. As you’re busily taking care of life at home, your teen will be growing and maturing into a young adult you can be proud of.