A lot of kids learn how to sail. Or learn how to use a compass and map. Or improve their tennis. Complete a swimming level or star in a musical. Some of those happened for me when I was 12, 13 and 14, but on reflection, sleep-over camp was predominantly about socialization.
Camp is an amazing opportunity for young people to be away from their families of origin and create a new sense of family and community. It’s an interesting time of safe independence since mostly it’s an environment of young people. Relationships are struck. Reputations are developed. I was learning how to be a part of a group – for better or worse. I was learning about social interactions between boys and girls. I wore my first bra at summer camp. I watched the older girls navigate puberty and the raging hormones that created sparks within the dry August forest. I learned how to put on eye liner. I french kissed for the first time. Got felt up for the first time. I practiced flirting and experienced the power of my developing body in a bathing suit. Life lessons? Of course they were.
Are your kids returning from camp in the upcoming days? Are they 12, 13, 14? Think what you want about me but that’s where a lot of the action starts. Don’t just ask if they passed their bronze medallion or lit a fire in a rainstorm. Finding out that they excelled in archery is great but there’s an even greater opportunity to dig a little deeper into stuff that matters.
Post camp convos about crushes, relationships and sexuality
- Talking about their fellow campers might be easier than talking about themselves. So start there.
- When you ask your kids about their cabinmates, find about about puberty changes among their contemporaries. Are their friends much taller? Filling out with muscles and/or hips and breasts? Have the other girls started their periods? Did the kids talk at all about these changes? This is a great way to discover how developed your child’s peers are, how early adolescence is experienced and how your kid might feel about their own development. It’s a chance to reinforce that everyone grows in their own way and in their own time. It can also provide some important insights about body image and the ways that young people feel, think and communicate about their bodies.
- Ask your kids about crushes or relationships. Were there any couples? Did the relationships last the whole summer? What did it mean when campers were coupled? What did coupledom entail?
- Remember to ask questions in gender neutral terms. While most of our kids might consider or imagine themselves straight, some among them know or are discovering that they don’t fit in that box. Your neutrality on the subject will give them one more reason to open up to you if they are gay or questioning their orientation. And for those that are having hetero crushes, you are messaging an acceptance and non-judgement that they can carry with them into the future.
- Since many pre-teens and teens gather information about sex and sexuality from their peers, it might be useful to communicate your knowledge of that. By saying ‘I remember being a teenager and learning stuff about sex from my friends/counsellors’. You could add that not all the information that you received was true and let your kids know that you are happy to confirm accurate information or provide them with more complete information.