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How camp helps teens prepare for their futures

Camp is beneficial for kids of all ages, but for teens, who are refining their sense of who they are and acquiring skills they’ll need for adulthood, camp comes at a particularly critical time.

While most parents want to help their children during every step of the transition from child to adult, sometimes the best thing Mom and Dad can do is to push their kids out the door for a couple weeks a year.

“Teens need somebody besides Mom or Dad to safely challenge them,” says Stuart Marshall, a Boulder-based licensed psychotherapist and family counselor who specializes in youth rite of passage and experiential and wilderness therapies. “Camp is a great place to help them through their rite of passage. It’s a place where they can get out of their comfy zones, build new relationships and deal will all sorts of different personalities, which will help them get along better in the world.”

Betsy Thamert, the executive director of the American Camp Association’s (ACA) Rocky Mountain field office, says she also believes that camp can help teens prepare for adulthood in ways that most teens won’t experience elsewhere. According to Thamert and data collected by the ACA in their Youth Development Outcomes of the Camp Experience study, which surveyed 3,395 families about their camp experience, camp is an important venue for teens to get a taste of the world outside of their homes, schools and immediate communities.

Camp helps teens gain positive selfidentity, self-esteem and independence, Thamert explains. The experience helps them enhance their leadership and social skills and build strong peer relationships. It also leads to improved physical and thinking skills, and helps teens develop constructive life skills like planning, organizing and decision-making.

Teens who attend camp tend to be less influenced by their peers, she says, and, most importantly, learn responsibility, resourcefulness and resilience.

“Camp’s community living is also great preparation for college living,” says Thamert. “To have the experience of living in a community setting that is not family is incredibly valuable preparation for living in a dorm setting or with peers after high school.”

Another benefit of camps for teens is that they, by design, put teens on equal footing with their peers no matter who they are at school, says Chris Coker, president and CEO of the YMCA of Boulder Valley, who has 14 years of experience as a camp director and is a father to three kids.

“There are no cliques at camp,” Coker says.

“The staff — these slightly older, college-aged people who teens look up to — just rip cliques apart. This gives teens a chance to be less judgmental and to become great leaders.”

Coker also explains that just being in the camp environment is a great growth experience for teens. For many, camp is the first place where they have a chance to be on their own — to make new friends, pick camp classes and choose what food they want to eat — all activities that they’ll be doing all the time soon, without any supervision, at college or on their own as adults. In this way, Coker says that camp serves as a great transition space between home and adulthood.

“And, the best part of camp — for parents, too — is that their kids come home better people,” continues Coker. “They’re more independent, they succumb less to peer pressure, and they’re just plain happier kids.”

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