To address the dramas of dealing with teenage life, I created a staff training called, “Adulting at Camp,” for the staff at Camp Towanda.
By staff, I mean 150 young men and 150 young women, emphasis on the young. Some of them looked about the same age as the kids they’d be responsible for just a few days later.
We started with a simple question that Audrey Monke suggested: Who was there for you when things got hard and what did they do to help you through? This set the tone for an important conversation. Not only did they remember the few times an adult came through for them, they also remembered the things that made them feel small and misunderstood. In a few minutes, a roomful of 20 year olds were back in their childhoods.
We listed the things people had said that helped, a cheatsheet they could refer back to as the summer went on. We also made a list of what not to say.
And then, we role-played. Those who spoke confidently about how to be a good role model served as the “counselors” in the scenarios, and quickly found themselves overwhelmed by their “campers.” Using the typical scenarios of teenage life that play out during summer camp, we asked the staff to act as if they were 13 again.
In moments, the whole vibe of the room changed. They went from reflecting to accurately portraying the worst teen dramas they could remember: bullying, rejection, fear, homesickness, isolation.
This opportunity to both reflect and troubleshoot before they were faced with real teenage life was powerful and effective. This kind of proactive work makes all the difference in an environment where inexperienced people are in charge of teens.