How Summer Camp Helps Girls 12 to 13 Grow
Summer camp can help your daughter develop critical life skills, particularly in social relations, empathy and understanding of others, and to build confidence through social interaction and skill building, to increase her resilience in the face of setbacks, and to help satisfy her need for independence by empowering her to have significant control over her day, all wrapped up in lots and lots of fun!
Understanding Your Daughter's Developmental Stage
As a parent of a girl between 12 and 13, you've seen your daughter grow from middle childhood to teenager. Children mature at different rates, but child development experts tell us that the beginning teens years are a time when some girls experience rapid growth and a change in appearance, which can make them uncomfortable with their changing image, whereas other girls who have not experienced such changes may feel uncomfortable precisely because they have not gone through the changes other girls have. They are very self-conscious and often equate how they perform in an activity with self-worth, which can discourage participation. Early teen girls often still think in black-and-white terms but are starting to move from concrete thinking to more abstract thinking. As they start to think in abstract terms, issues of justice, equality fairness in how people are treated become more important. Girls in this age group start the process of becoming independent and reducing dependence on their parents. They often begin to challenge adult explanations in favor of finding their own answers and can become argumentative and test limits. They are generally no longer afraid to be away from their parents and begin to develop mature friendship skills. They tend to find that smaller groups are less intimidating. It is common to form cliques. The opinion of peers and the desire to be accepted by them becomes increasingly important. Though girls still prefer to socialize with other girls, they often become very interested in what the boys are doing. And as puberty takes a firm hold, their emotions begin down a bumpy road that lasts throughout adolescence.
Here's how summer camp can help your daughter develop age-appropriate skills:
Summer camp can help your daughter build social competence. Your daughter will live and eat with other girls who are within a year of her age. Many, if not all, of the campers will likely be new to her. Meeting new kids and living in a close communal setting under the caring supervision of trained adults provides lots of opportunity for social interaction. This also supports two of the summer camp's essential values—tolerance and respect for all. If there's a bump along the way, there's an adult nearby to help your daughter work through the issue. And when your daughter makes friends, she'll gain confidence in her social abilities. Your daughter will also have the opportunity to select the activities she wants, allowing her to be with her friends and other girls with whom she wants to be friends.
Empathy and Understanding
Summer camp can help build empathy and understanding of others. The campers with whom your daughter will live, eat, and play may not just be new to her, 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 daughter to ask herself how she'd feel in their shoes.
Summer camp can help smooth the long road to independence. Particularly for a child on her first extended stay away from her parents, camp can help. When your daughter realizes she can have fun and make friends away from her parents, she gains a little independence. At camp, she is empowered to make key decisions about her day, including choosing the activities in which she participates and what to eat (though under the watchful eye of a caring adult). And at camp, she is called upon to contribute to her bunk group by helping tidy and clean their bunk and cleaning one of the summer camp's common areas each day. While this level of empowerment and contribution may seem insignificant to an adult, it is often the first time many early teen girls have had so much input on their day and is a great start on the road to becoming independent.
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 daughter build confidence. This is particularly important at this stage of development when girls are so self-conscious. When anyone faces a challenge, especially one that's a little beyond her comfort zone, and then emerges on the other side successfully, she naturally gains confidence. She thinks, "Yeah, I can do that!" That holds true for being away from home for the first time, to making new friends, and to acquiring new skills. Our summer camp also does things to avoid confidence-killers. For example, physical appearance is a big deal for girls in this age group and so we have tried to reduce the emphasis on appearance in small but significant ways, such as by requiring one-piece bathing suits and avoided putting mirrors in the restrooms where girls would otherwise tend to focus on their appearance. All in all, summer camp is a great place for your daughter to build confidence.
Our summer camp's activities are also 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. And because girls in this age range tend to internalize their self-worth with their performance, the focus is on your daughter's improvement rather than giving her a score or time or other ranking to compare against others. So, for example, she might be recognized for hitting more bulls eyes this turn on the archery range compared to her last turn. In essence, the summer camp focuses on non-competitive activities, but even where there's some aspect of competition, such as on the volleyball court, "winning" is non-consequential. The summer camp also encourages campers to give each other "put-ups" (as opposed to "put-downs") in recognition of accomplishing a goal the camper set for herself. This peer recognition is universally appreciated. Lastly, the summer camp addresses appearance-based self-consciousness by requiring one-piece bathing suits for all girls and providing private showers and toilets for changing, if desired. (In fact, there isn't even a mirror in the girls' restroom!)
Girls 12-13 are often starting to experience externally-imposed limits on what they should or are capable of doing. So let's work on empowering them now with these essential life skills to compete on an even playing field and help them reach their full potential!