More than 4 million parents across Canada send their children to summer camp every year. From 2000-2013 the numbers of campers dropped by almost 10%. The Canadian population is increasingly urban, diverse and technologically dependant. Fewer and fewer Canadians have had the childhood experience of going camping or going to a summer camp.

With the above in mind, those who have been to a summer camp (or have gone camping) know that spending time away in a remote location, meeting new people, and taking on new challenges is all part of the experience. This type of adventure early in life brings about the inevitable struggles that encourage personal growth in areas such as self-confidence and character development, which will help them become healthy well-adjusted adults.

Those who experience the “planned deprivations” of a summer camp are often nervous and apprehensive prior to camp. These “deprivations” often include being in a remote location away from family and friends, support groups, technology, and living in a “rustic” environment. In a short period of time, the contagious excitement of the other campers combined with the positive camp atmosphere turns these “deprivations” into “life-changers”. By the end of the camp session the great unknown has become an irreplaceable network of friends and shared experiences.

Our current prime minister began his career as a camp counsellor in his teens, and is proud of that background. Camp counsellors are a special breed of young adults who have taken on a high level of responsibility for others; they work 24/7 with their assigned youth, keeping in mind the philosophy of “ask, explain and support”. They are models of positive energy, finding a balance in competing interests (they try to organize groups of ten eight-year-olds at different emotional, physical and intellectual stages by choosing an activity during free time), while demonstrating a leadership style that encourages each youth to be their own person with their own talents, strengths and weaknesses, and a respect for those differences. Spending a summer as a camp counsellor, working with youth, supporting and encouraging these youngsters can be rewarding. These counsellors will ultimately develop their own skills that will prepare them for their own educational pursuits and future careers.

The campers and counsellors alike learn the life lessons required for adulthood; the difficulty in finding common grounds between opposing forces, how to come to acceptable and respectful compromises, how to solve interpersonal conflicts, how to differentiate between being “rude/mean/a bully”. All of these experiences accumulate over a lifetime, or simply in the course of a summer season (they will build the backbone and skill sets required for a successful adult life and future careers). Summer camp is the core of life lessons which teach youth how to make decisions and live with them. It provides opportunity for risk and trial/error in an inclusive, supportive and forgiving environment. It is often a young person’s first experience at having roommates― blending personal needs and wants with those of others that are not part of their immediate families.

Whether spending the summer as a counsellor or a camper, their lives have irrevocably changed. They have found the key to living together in peace and harmony as a camp family, thus creating the bonds that last a lifetime.