Choosing the right summer camp for kids and summer camp for teens can be a big decision for parents. A pediatric psychologist weighs in to discuss the social and developmental benefits of summer camp.
“As children and teens grow up, they’re tasked with developing social skills and maintaining positive relationships,” says Dr. Sabrina Stutz, a pediatric psychologist at CHOC. “Schooltime may not be able to fully address these needs, since so much time there is focused on academic and life skills. This is where extra-curriculars, including summer camps, come in to add enrichment to children’s lives.”
Another benefit of summer camp is their tendency to offer a culture based around positivity, where any negative attitudes fizzle because positive participation and upbeat attitudes are positively reinforced.
Summer camp is also an opportunity for children to explore new or deepen their interest in familiar activities.
“Camp often provides structured activities with the ability for children to have the freedom of choice to explore what interests them,” Stutz says. “It’s also a good environment for kids to take healthy risks and try something new, without the influence of pre-existing peer groups or family expectations. This helps them foster independence and hone their decision-making and problem-solving skills.”
How to find a good summer camp
Parents should look for high-quality camps that provide a safe space with adult supervisors who are energetic, accepting, supportive and who set appropriate boundaries, she adds.
A good summer camp provides a supportive social environment that is often dedicated to peer interaction and cooperation.
“At camp, children are exposed to others who may be similar or different to them, which can be a jarring and initially uncomfortable experience,” Stutz says. “By sticking with it and developing new relationships, children are required to test-drive their social skills and adapt, thus building social competence and social comfort.”
Creating new friendships may also broaden a child’s perspective on how they view themselves, she adds. Camp friendships can be long-lasting, despite changes in a child’s day-to-day home or social life.
The benefits of special interest camps
Special interest camps – like science camp, outdoor camp, or creative camp – are a different opportunity for youth with a specific interest to take a deep dive into their passions.
“Meeting other youth with similar drives and abilities can help to push a child who may be used to being at the top of their class or help them develop new levels of mastery they may not have thought they could reach,” Stutz says. “Developing new creative, academic or outdoor skills can broaden a child’s horizons and change their perceptions of their own limits.”
The benefits of special population camps
Special population camps – like camps for kids with chronic illnesses, autism, learning differences, or behavioral challenges—are another opportunity for kids and teens to meet others and normalize their unique experiences.
In these environments, a child’s special needs are supported, and campers have the chance to just be kids, all while reaping the same benefits of a traditional summer camp environment. These camps may offer special sessions for family members and siblings to foster connection and social support among those encountering similar challenges.
“Many families have told me that their experiences at these special needs camps were life-changing, and that they found lifelong friendships,” Stutz says.
Regardless of the type of camp, length of program, or location, many skills that children and teens develop at camp can be sustained even after they return home or after the program ends.