How Summer Camp Helps Girls 14 to 17 Grow
Summer camp can help your daughter acquire essential life skills such as independence by empowering her to have significant control over her day, to refine her social competence, to satisfy her desire to socialize and play with her peers (in a closely supervised environment), to work on her empathy and understanding of others, to develop activity-related skills, to increase her resilience, and to further her confidence, all wrapped up in lots and lots of fun!
Understanding Your Daughter's Developmental Stage
As a parent of a girl between 14 and 17, you've seen your daughter grow from early-teen to mid-teen. Children mature at different rates, but youth development experts tell us that the mid-teen years are a time when that rapid growth slows as the girls approach their adult height. Mid-teens get a sense of their physical abilities and talents, 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 girls 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 girls 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 girls 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 girls are capable of empathy and understanding of others but maybe quite self-absorbed, which interferes with this ability. Mid-teen girls generally have well-developed relationship skills and are able to form earnest, close, and long-lasting friendships. Interest in boys increases and acceptance by boys is of high importance and may preoccupy mid-teen girls. Some girls who are talented in a sport or physical skill may de-tune their abilities so as not to show up boys. Fluctuating emotions may cause mid-teen girls 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 girls want to be part of something special and important.
Here's how summer camp can help your daughter develop age-appropriate skills:
Summer camp can help smooth the long road to independence. At camp, your daughter is empowered to make key decisions about her day, including choosing the activities in which she participates and with whom, 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. She will also have the opportunity to participate in the summer camp's Campers-in-Leadership Training (CILT) program, in which she will mentor a group of younger campers by helping them to reflect on their day and by reading to them. She will also select an activity in which she 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 daughter will live and eat with other girls who are within about 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. If there's a bump along the way, there's an adult nearby to help your daughter 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 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.
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 continues to be 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 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. However, to reduce the sometimes intense desire to be attractive to the other sex, the summer camp de-emphasizes appearance by requiring one-piece bathing suits of all girls (and even has no mirror in the girl's restroom!).
Different girls 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 let them know it's okay to be accomplished (even if it means out climbing, out riding or out shooting boys), so they're ready to enter adulthood confident to compete on an even playing field. In other words, let's help them reach their full potential!