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10 Reasons Why High School Students Will Get A Lot From Summer Camp

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Teenagers sitting around a campfire at camp.

Theodore Roosevelt reportedly said, “In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.” While Teddy was likely speaking of deciding issues far weightier than what to do with high school students during the summer months, with the advent of spring, it’s a topic of discussion around more than a few family dinner tables.

My answer? The best thing to do is send high school students to summer camp!

While there are many reasons, I will focus on two important ones: favorable youth outcomes and developmental progress. For good measure, I’ll also throw in some important questions parents should ask when choosing a camp for teenagers.

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The Top 10 Outcomes of Experiential Learning at Camp

“Camp is an experience every child deserves,” according to the American Camp Association (ACA), which accredits more than 2,400 camps serving more than 7.2 million children and teens. Specifically, ACA points to the "joy" kids experience when they make new friends and the inherent value in unplugging from their electronic devices, enjoying being out of doors, connecting with other young people, and learning about themselves.

And the ACA adds that, from a quantifiable perspective, the outcomes of a summer camp experience include the following.

  1. Friendship skills: Make friends and maintain relationships.

  2. Independence : Rely less on adults and other people for solving problems and day-to-day activities.

  3. Teamwork: Be more effective working in groups of peers.

  4. Family citizenship: Gain attributes important to being a member of a family.

  5. Perceived competence: Believe that they can be successful in the things they do.

  6. Interest in exploration: Be more curious and eager to learn new things.

  7. Responsibility: Learn to be accountable for their own actions and mistakes.

  8. Affinity for nature: Develop feelings of emotional attraction toward nature.

  9. Problem-solving confidence: Believe they have abilities to resolve problems.

  10. Spiritual well-being: Develop purpose and meaning in life.

Camps are also being recognized as incubators for the highly valued non-cognitive or “soft skills” and as places to hone leadership and social entrepreneurship skills.

Top 10 Questions Parents Should Be Asking About Teen Camps

Even if you’re convinced of the value of a summer camp experience for your teen, you may wonder, “How do I find the right one?” While there is no one-size-fits-all, there are summer camps that do not serve teens, camps that serve teens exclusively and camps that serve children and teens. When it comes to the latter two, here is some advice from the Better Business Bureau as to what to look for and what to ask.

  1. Visit a camp before paying a deposit so you know where your child will be living, eating and sleeping. Check if the recreational facilities are in good repair.

  2. Ask about safety, training and background checks for the staff.

  3. Make sure you understand about any extra fees for activities or special trips.

  4. Ask about two important stats that might give you a hint of whether the camp is a good spot: the camper return rate and the counselor return rate. If few kids or counselors are returning, it might be a red flag.

  5. Check into background of the director and other leaders. Do they have the experience to deal with teens?

  6. Ask about medical facilities and the procedure for emergencies.

  7. Ask to see proof of appropriate insurance coverage.

  8. Make sure you and your camper are comfortable with the rules on communication with home. Ask about strategies for combating homesickness.

  9. Ask to talk to other camp parents or to campers. Don’t depend on the official line.

  10. Look for camps that are certified by the American Camp Association and have to meet up to 300 nationally recognized standards.

Armed with the facts and the myriad of things to consider, you’re now ready for a moment of decision that will likely result in a life-changing summer for your teen.

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Stephen Gray Wallace is president and director of the Center for Adolescent Research and Education (CARE), a collaborative committed to increasing positive youth outcomes and reducing negative-risk behaviors. He has broad experience as a school psychologist, adolescent/family counselor and college professor. He is director of counseling and counselor training at Cape Cod Sea Camps and a member of the professional development faculty at the American Academy of Family Physicians.

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