Mentors at Camp
How Campers Benefit from Having Teen or Young-Adult Counselors
Camp keeps children busy over the summer and allows them to foster friendships, exercise and be creative. In addition to these advantages, a healthy relationship with an adolescent or young-adult camp counselor has many pros for a younger child.
Make positive connections
The teenage years can be rough if you take into account puberty, high school and all the other influences that teens face, so a positive teen role model is crucial. “Maybe campers see teen or young-adult counselors as older sibling figures and are a little more attached at times to them,” says Kelly Degorski, owner and director of Camp RAD in Warminster, PA.
The age proximity between campers and young counselors also helps facilitate communication about more serious top- ics. “Campers feel comfortable sharing things with the counselors – even things that go on at home or between friends,” says Liz Staib-King, executive director of the YMCA of Delaware’s Camp Tockwogh in Worton, MD. Campers feel they have someone to confide in, and in difficult situations the counselors can step in to stop a bad situation from getting worse.
The first day of camp, similar to the first day of school, can be a difficult transition for some children. Your child finally has a break from school, and another structured morning-to-afternoon environment can feel constricting. The counselors and teen counselors-in-training can ease campers’ feelings of uncertainty and make camp feel more like play than work. “Campers experience high-energy, fun and silly counselors that make them want to come to camp every day,” Degorski says.
Counselors give young campers access to an authority figure closer in age to them than a parent or teacher, which helps inspire campers’ independence, encourages communication and lessens the campers’ fear of authority.
When a camper sees a counselor model positive behavior, the possibility increases that a child will mimic that behavior. “If a parent or teacher attempted to get a child to try a new food or overcome a specific fear, it would probably be harder for those adults to succeed. A younger staff member may find it easier to help a child in both of those situations,” says Andrew Yankowitz, owner and director of Tall Pines Day Camp in Williamstown, NJ.
Set future goals
A teen’s first job plays an important role in his development. It teaches him about work ethic and helps him develop a skill set he can use in the future.
Yankowitz cites his junior counselors as the inspiration behind many campers’ decisions to work at the camp when they are older. “Many of our youngest campers go home and tell their parents that they want to be a CIT or junior counselor. There is a tangible outcome without those parents having to tell their children they should get a job,” he says.
Hilary LaMotte Burke, director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Delaware’s Summer Fun Club, believes that a child benefits from spending time with a college student. “That moment when a child realizes that the counselor from Summer Fun Club who introduced her to building Lego robotics paved the way to her studying computer science in college? The power of those relationships is undeniable,” LaMotte Burke says.
When a child builds a relationship with a teen or young-adult camp counselor, it helps him flourish in many ways. However, the camper is not the only one who reaps the benefits of summer-camp relationships. LaMotte Burke notes, “On numerous occasions we hear from the college-age staff about how a young child or a certain situation changed their outlook, their course of study or their approach to life. There is a symbiotic relationship that takes place” between campers and counselors.
Ariana Annunziato is a communications major at Drexel University and a co-op intern with MetroKids.