Did your teenager love summer camp as a child? Does he or she need a job but can’t work during the school year because of homework and activities? Day or sleepaway camp is the perfect place for teens to transition to the world of the employed. The paycheck is nice, but being a camp counselor has other rewards, too.

The Gift of Responsibility

As much as a teen may protest about it, learning responsibility is the gateway to more independence as they grow into adults. Camp is an ideal place to build accountability because teens are in charge of other kids or activities, but they are still being supervised. If they work at an overnight camp, they must keep their cabin quarters neat and guide younger children to do the same. If they work at a day camp, they must show up on time, care for children and lead activities. According to Darcy Johnson, Dunwoody Nature Center’s Assistant Camp Director and the person in charge of the Junior Counselor program, being a Junior Counselor is a great volunteer opportunity for teens. “It is often their first experience having a job and the responsibilities that come along with it, chief among them interacting and supervising several children at once. I think many of them are surprised by how tired they feel at the end of each day!” she says. Working at camp is fun, but it also gives teens a glimpse into the adult world with the guidance they still need.

The Opportunity to Be a Role Model

Do you remember a teen you looked up to when you were a kid at summer camp? Maybe he or she helped you perfect your back stroke, taught you how to throw a curve ball or gave the perfect advice for dealing with disagreements between friends. Teens can connect to kids in ways that adults sometimes can’t, and when teens work at camp, they experience the fulfillment of helping younger kids meet their goals and develop new skills. “The campers truly look up to teen counselors as role models – almost like an older sibling,” says Johnson.

Refined Relationship Skills

From fun-centered sports competitions between rival teams to getting chores done for inspection, counselors and campers have to work together. Being able to do this teaches teens to hone their communication and interpersonal relationship skills. “The unique experiences they have working with children in the camp setting really helps develop the relational, independence and adaptability components needed for the careers in which many of our counselors are striving toward,” says Ashley Mason, Associate Resident Camp Director for YMCA Camp Thunderbird at Lake Wylie in South Carolina. “The unique setting of camp demands that our counselors be adaptable, flexible, versatile, independent, to take initiative, to problem solve, to hold themselves and others accountable, to be welcoming and inclusive, to be good listeners and advisers, to self-reflect but also to receive the feedback of others to propel them forward.” Some camps even offer staff  communication trainings and morale building activities before camp starts to increase awareness and create discussion about how to get along with others.

Improved Time Management Skills

Teen counselors have to be on time to meals, the morning meeting at the flag pole, and the activities they lead. They’re also responsible for gently prodding their campers to be punctual. If they are in charge of a lesson, craft or game, they must plan ahead and make sure they have all the supplies ready and set up on time. These time-management lessons will benefit them as they enter college and the work place.

Time Away from Technology

Most day camps and sleep away camps either have a no device policy or have only short scheduled times with technology. “Camp is like nowhere else,” says Ilana Schlam, Assistant Director at Camp Judaea in Hendersonville, NC. “It’s a place that teens can work and have fun alongside peers and kids in the beauty of nature.” Camp is the perfect place to do a “digital detox” and get back to nature, sports and face-to-face socialization.

Preparation for Being Away at College

If your teen works at an overnight camp, he or she may get a taste of what college life is like. He or she will be responsible for meals, getting up on time or using a coin laundry. These are all valuable lessons that will prepare him or her for college. Also being away from home for an extended period of time for the first time can take some adjusting to and it can create some homesickness. Teen camp counselors have experienced these feelings and dealt with them before they go to college.

A Chance to Share Talents and Skills

Is your teen an athlete? An artist? A nature enthusiast? Can he or she dance, write or program computers? Camp introduces teens to opportunities that maybe they hadn’t considered. It builds confidence and opens doors to future careers.

Saving on Summer Expenses

One of the advantages of working at an overnight camp is that in addition to a pay check, meals and lodging are usually provided by the camp. Staffers’ work and life all happen at the camp, so gas use is minimal. Teen counselors chaperone camp trips to amusement parks and museums which are usually covered by the camp. Granted, these covered expenses do require responsibility and work, and are not solely carefree outings, but they are positive perks for a summer job.

Resume Building

Working at camp is great experience to put on a resume when your teen is ready to enter the adult world of work. “For a teen, working at overnight camp is not only the most meaningful job, but also one that will truly prepare them for real life, says Schlam. “As a staff member at camp, you learn so many skills – patience, confidence, time management – that translate into any career that you choose.” Camp experience is beneficial if your teen wants to teach or coach, but working at camp also builds communication, collaboration and problem-solving skills, all worthy resume additions that may catch a future employer’s interest.

A New Appreciation for You

Being a teen counselor is indeed hard work. It involves stamina, patience and responsibility. Oh, and teen counselors must also teach, guide and care for children younger than themselves. It sounds a tiny bit like parenting, right? Teens who are camp counselors may begin to recognize how hard parenting is. With that recognition, they may have a new appreciation for all their parents do by the end of the summer.

Being a camp counselor is a great start for teens who want to join the world of work. If your teen is interested in beginning the adventure that comes with being a camp counselor, more information can be found at the American Camp Association website at acacamps.org/staff-professionals/job-center.

-Janeen Lewis

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