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After a few years of traditional summer camp - bunking in cabins, swimming in lakes, and participating in Color Wars - many teens think they have become too old, or too sophisticated, to continue attending. Others have never tried sleep-away camp at all, thinking it is "just not for them," and have outgrown their local day camps. Working families then face the dilemma of finding fun, safe, and productive ways for their older teens to fill those long summer days. The good news is that each year, there are more and more programs tailored especially to the needs and interests of teenagers, and the options that are currently available far exceed what one typically thinks of when considering "summer camp."
Some traditional camps do offer more advanced programs for older campers. These programs might include more extreme sports and adventures, as well as wilderness activities like rock-climbing, white-water rafting, or mountain biking. Many teens relish the opportunity to develop their orienteering and "survival" skills, and wilderness challenges can teach the importance of both teamwork and self-reliance. The older child can also choose to spend the summer scuba diving, sailing, or even skiing and snowboarding! Senior campers may participate in leadership or counselor-in-training programs, or train towards lifeguard certification. All of these programs help teens develop the interpersonal skills and self-confidence that will contribute to their later successes.
For the young adult who has already developed a strong interest in a particular sport or other activity, specialty camps offer intensive, professional level instruction, as well as the opportunity to socialize with others who share the same interest. Specialty camps are offered in virtually every sport, from golf and tennis to lacrosse and ice hockey, and in a broad range of performing arts, including film-making, acting, dance, singing and musical theatre. These programs are typically staffed by professionals, who can often provide career guidance and mentorship beyond the camp experience. Due to the intense focus of specialty programs, they are often of shorter duration than traditional camps, leaving teens' summer schedules flexible for their other activities.
Another option available to the older teen is the academic program. Whether a student requires remedial assistance in a particular subject, or help developing study and test-taking skills in general, there are programs that teach these skills while improving the student's self-esteem and motivation. For the already motivated student, academic programs can offer advanced or specialized course work, sometimes for school credit, to accommodate virtually any interest, from archaeology to computer programming. Formal college and SAT preparatory programs are also available, some of which also offer life skills training, such as Driver's Education. Academic programs are generally held on college campuses, with the "campers" residing in dormitories and truly experiencing college-style living. A few also offer real-world work internships in the student's chosen field. Some programs actually combine study with travel, offering opportunities to study marine biology in the Caribbean, or a foreign language in Europe, for example.
Of course some teenagers prefer to travel strictly for recreation, and leave the formal learning for the school year. Teen tours and travel programs can now accommodate even the most adventurous youth, with destinations all over the United States, Europe, South America, Australia, and even Africa. These trips include age-appropriate excursions and activities that will generate memories that last a lifetime.
The programs that are most often described as profoundly life-altering are those which combine travel with community service. In addition to gaining in-depth exposure to another culture, the teen that chooses this type of program gets to build solid leadership and practical work skills. Parents often notice that upon their return from a community service program, teens are more helpful and responsible around the house, and demonstrate an increased sense of purpose overall.
All of the teen programs can provide the kinds of experiences and skills that can be used to build resumes and college or scholarship applications. Because of their importance to a teen's future, as well as their expense, these programs should be chosen with perhaps even more care than a younger child's summer camp. Parents should not rely simply on the glossy advertisements or pervasive Internet presence some marketers use to appeal primarily to teens. Nor should they feel overwhelmed by the vast array of programs available and the prospect of discerning reputable, well-run, long standing programs from those that are not. Organizations like the National Camp Association are staffed by knowledgeable camp and teen program professionals, who can consider a family's specific needs and interests, and make appropriate recommendations. These referrals can be requested at http://www.summercamp.org/CampQuest. Armed with this customized information, parents should of course do their own homework, and check the references of any programs they are considering.
There is no longer any reason for teenagers to think that their best summer adventures are behind them, and that there is nothing better for them to do than play video games or hang out at the local mall until school starts again. Now, they can still enjoy the fun, freedom, and independence of summers past, while building the life skills that can enhance their futures.
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