My TIME.com column today on the benefits of being a camp counselor:
Summer Camp: Can It Make Kids More Responsible? Why Interaction Within Mixed Age Groups Makes Kids More Mature
There aren’t a lot of Harvard students who’ve worked as camp counselors, but I can usually spot them: they have a combination of flexibility and interpersonal savvy that makes them good leaders. I always thought that the kind of person who chooses to be a camp counselor is likely already an affable and mature person. But many educators have come to recognize that summer camp, and specifically being a counselor, fosters precisely the skill that we value so highly in young adults: taking responsibility. Caring for younger children helps teenagers learn how to be more mature themselves.
Interaction within mixed-age groups is increasingly rare, undoubtedly a by-product of our “overprogrammed child” culture, with soccer leagues even for preschoolers who can’t find the goalpost. Girls can still gain this valuable experience through babysitting (though it seems like fewer girls are taking on such work), but for boys it is much harder. As Michael Thompson, the author of Raising Cain, pointed out recently at the Aspen Ideas Festival, teenage boys face something of a Catch-22 in that adults are reluctant to give an immature teenage boy responsibility for the young kids who would help him mature. Overnight summer camps provide just such a mentoring opportunity through an incremental leadership pathway that enables teenagers, usually starting at age 14 or 15 as counselors in training, to assume increasing levels of responsibility for kids…