How Summer Camp Helps Boys 14-17 Grow
Summer camp can help your son to acquire essential life skills such as independence by empowering him to have significant control over his day, to refine his social skills,to satisfy his desire to socialize and play with his peers (in a closely supervised environment), to work on his empathy and understanding of others, to develop activity-related skills, to increase his resilience, and to further his confidence, all wrapped up in lots and lots of fun!
Understanding Your Son's Developmental Stage
As a parent of a boy between 14 and 17, you've seen your son grow from early-teen to. Children mature at different rates, but youth development experts tell us that even though boys may continue to grow into their early 20s, they get a sense of their physical abilities and talents in their mid-teens, though they may over-estimate or underestimate their actual abilities. Two important emotional goals of these years are independence and identity, though it's rare either will be fully achieved during the mid-teens. Mid-teen boys begin to think about their future, establishing goals and making plans for their adulthood. They often reject goals set by others and rebel against authority. They want increased power over their lives as they strive for more independence. They continue to seek recreational opportunities apart from their family and may experiment with social beliefs and values that differ from their parents. Mid-teen boys are generally capable of starting and completing their own tasks with varying levels of supervision; whether they do so is often related to adult expectations. Belonging to a group is still important, but mid-teen boys now want to be recognized as a unique individual within that group. While appearance is still important, more importance is starting to be placed on personality. They are developing the ability to assess their own feelings, analyzing why they feel a certain way. Mid-teen boys are capable of empathy and understanding of others but maybe quite self-absorbed, which interferes with this ability. Mid-teen boys generally have well-developed relationship skills and are able to form earnest, close, and long-lasting friendships. Interest in girls increases and acceptance by girls is of high importance and may preoccupy mid-teen boys. Fluctuating emotions may cause mid-teen boys to be irritable or sullen at times. Their abstract thinking continues to progress. However, they still tend to think in binary terms, such as something is either good or bad and have difficulty understanding nuance and compromise to adjust to the realities of life. Mid-teen boys want to be part of something special and important.
Here's how summer camp can help your son develop age-appropriate skills:
Summer camp can help smooth the long road to independence. At camp, your son is empowered to make key decisions about his day, including choosing the activities in which he participates and with whom, and what to eat (though under the watchful eye of a caring adult). And at camp, he is called upon to contribute to his bunk group by helping tidy and clean their bunk and cleaning one of the summer camp's common areas each day. He will also have the opportunity to participate in the summer camp's Campers-in-Leadership Training (CILT) program, in which he will mentor a group of younger campers by helping them to reflect on their day and by reading to them. He will also select an activity in which he will assist camp staff to facilitate and debrief the activity, along with attending sessions with camp staff to discuss what it means to be a leader.
While most mid-teens are adept at making friends within their peer group, that isn't to say some couldn't benefit from more practice, particularly with teens who come from a different geographic region or background. Your son will live and eat with other boys who are within about a year of his age. Many, if not all, of the campers will likely be new to him. Meeting new kids and living in a close communal setting under the caring supervision of trained adults provides lots of opportunity for social interaction. If there's a bump along the way, there's an adult nearby to help your son work through the issue. This also supports two of the summer camp's essential values—tolerance and respect for all.
Empathy and Understanding
Summer camp can help build empathy and understanding of others. The campers with whom your son will live, eat, and play may not just be new to him, but they may come from a different state or even country and a very different background. For example, each summer we typically have some campers who come from across the U.S., and even from Europe and Asia. And even many of our counselors are here on an international cultural exchange visa. Getting to know people from different regions and backgrounds begins the process of understanding them, which in turn nurtures empathy. It's a fantastic opportunity for your son to ask himself how he'd feel in their shoes.
Resilience is the capacity to recover from a setback and is essential for a happy and successful adulthood. Who, after all, gets through life having never faced a setback? Summer camp can help build resilience. Summer camp, unlike school, is keenly focused on the social nature of everything it does, from activities, to bunk meetings, to meal time. And there are trained adults ready to assist with an opportunity to address a social challenge. But summer camp can help build resilience outside of the social setting as well. Take almost any skill-based activity, from arts and crafts to rock climbing, from archery to performing arts. There is usually a point at which acquiring that next, more advanced skill is difficult. Sometimes, one hits a plateau and it can feel like a failure. But when that person tries again and achieves that next level, their persistence is rewarded and their resilience grows.
Summer camp can help your son build confidence. This continues to be important at this stage of development when boys are so self-conscious. When anyone faces a challenge, especially one that's a little beyond his comfort zone, and then emerges on the other side successfully, he naturally gains confidence. He thinks, "Yeah, I can do that!" That holds true for not just making new friends but also to acquiring new skills.
Our summer camp's activities are designed with this developmental stage in mind. Campers choose the activities in which they participate so they can create an activity line up that meets their social need to be with friends, or their desire to build skills, or just to have fun. The activities are not restricted by age or gender, which presents yet another opportunity for developing empathy and understanding. (However, due to some activities' requirement for strength, stamina or foundational skill, they may be less populated with younger campers.) The summer camp follows the Challenge-by-Choice philosophy, which empowers the participant to determine how far to pursue an activity, with camp staff providing the encouragement and guidance. The focus is on individual achievement and not on obtaining a score or time or other rating that is compared against others. Group activities are important to this very social-oriented developmental stage and so the vast majority of the summer camp's activities are done as a group.
Different boys in this 14-17 age range may have made it down the road to independence and to forming an identity to varying degrees, but they are all on this road. So let's work on empowering them now with essential life skills and to help them reach their full potential!