What Makes a Great Camp Counselor?

What Makes a Great Camp Counselor?

 

My friend Neil and I were talking about camp the other day and he said that when he was looking for a camp for his son years ago he only got to meet the camp Directors. While it may have been somewhat helpful, he knew that ultimately it would be his son’s counselors who were going to really  impact his son’s experience at camp.

What my friend said is true. As Director of Odyssey Teen Camp, I try my best to hire the forty or so most caring, mature, responsible, intelligent, kind, and fun people that I can. Then we come together for a week before the campers arrive to create a community based on kindness, inclusion, safety, cooperation, vulnerability, trust, and fun, which we can model for every teen who comes to camp.

“Ultimately our mission is to bombard every teen who comes with loving kindness.”

A camp counselor’s job is not easy. The days are long. At Odyssey, counselors not only have the job of creating a great culture in their cabin, they also lead all of our camp activities. For most counselors just getting to camp is not that easy and they have to arrange their lives to come and work in the Berkshires for five weeks for very little money.

Why do they do it?

They come work at camp because they want to help teenagers have fun and feel good about themselves. They know how confusing and hard it felt for them when they were teenagers to feel good about themselves and their world.

Many of them have an idea for the kind of support they could have used from someone who was maybe a few years older to help them navigate their way through middle and high school more gracefully, (and maybe even with more of a sense of humor). They very much want to be that person for our campers.

You would think it would be hard for a young person in their twenties to put their own needs on the back burner for five weeks and to make the needs of their campers their number one priority, but you would be surprised how many counselors do exactly that every summer.

Support is key

During staff training we try to give the counselors skills and tools that will help them be great counselors. We bring in some therapists who are great at helping teenagers, but ultimately staff training really starts the day the campers come. While camp is in session, we have an experienced team of therapists and leaders who help the counselors deal with whatever is coming up for their campers and often for themselves.

We all have things we need to figure out and ways we need to grow and that is certainly true of the young people who come to work at camp, but I am always amazed and grateful to see how good they are at a very tough job.

Sage advice from a veteran director

When I started camp an older Director told me that …

“The counselors are there for the kids and the Director is there for the counselor.”

At the time, I thought not me, I’m going to be there for everyone, and while I try my best and I do get to know certain campers better than others, he was right, the counselors play a key role in the campers’ experience.

The paradox

It’s hard to put into words what makes a great counselor. Sometimes I think that I know exactly what someone will be like as a counselor when I hire him, but the truth is that is not always the case. I think there is a paradox to most every quality in being a great camp counselor.

A counselor has to be willing to make the teens their number one priority, but they also have to take care of themselves sometimes so they do not get overly stressed or have “burnout.”

A counselor has to be hyper vigilant about camp rules and the safety of everyone at camp, but they also need to be able to relax and let some things slide.

A counselor needs to take the concerns of their campers very seriously, but they also need to not get too caught up in the drama that comes with the territory of working at a camp with 180 teenagers.

A counselor needs to plan for their activities and also know that things change all the time and they need to be flexible enough to go with the flow.

A counselor needs to want to help every teenager who comes to camp, and understand that they have their own limitations and will not always be able to reach every camper as well as they would like.

A great counselor needs to walk that fine line between being both a friend and support for their campers, while also being an authority presence who is ultimately in charge of each campers’ well being.

You can see why it is a difficult job. I feel grateful that so many young people want to take that challenge and come be counselors at camp. Ultimately I hire those people who I believe have the highest intentions, knowing that we will all have our challenges along the way, but those intentions can carry us a long way and help a lot of teenagers to have life changing experiences at camp.

Find out about Odyssey Teen Camp

A great place for teens to be exactly who they are in a community that celebrates diversity. 

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Veteran Camper Turned Counselor Reflects on 15yrs at OTC

Veteran Camper Turned Counselor Reflects on 15yrs at OTC

Georgios Tsangaris

Georgios Tsangaris

Adam Simon on “the Georgios effect”

One of the highlights of going to camp for me is getting to work with Georgios Tsangaris. Georgios came to camp when he was 15 for our first summer, and now he’s 31. He has only missed two years of camp during those sixteen years.

Georgios knows our camp culture as well as anyone because he created so much of it. At camp he is what we call a pod leader, (other camps might call it a division head), for the 15 and 16 year old boys. He brings so much heart, patience, humor, honesty, fun, and originality to everything he does. I asked him if he would write something to tell people what OTC is all about. Here’s how he describes our camp.

From the eyes of Georgios Tsangaris

Georgios Tsangaris

Georgios at 15

“At Odyssey Teen Camp we are a temporary intentional community, organized around making teens feel safe and supported as they experiment with new ideas, challenge their own assumptions, and make new friendships.

The staff and programming at Odyssey Teen Camp is eclectic and changes a little every year, but the mission of camp remains the same: OTC creates a space that temporarily ends and challenges the uglier parts of life: judgement, bullying, materialism, and division, to name a few.

Almost all teenagers can thrive in an environment that discourages judgement and encourages sincerity. It’s pretty common for a sporty and popular high schooler to come to OTC and open up like never before, make lots of friends, play a lot, and grow as a person. Lots of teens who feel trapped in playing the game of being cool and popular blossom in a situation where those social expectations and rules are suspended.

But often the teens that get the most out of camp are the kind that don’t quite fit in at school, the teens that are too weird to be popular, the teens whose fashion choices seem bizarre (but will probably be trendy in 10 years), the teens that are already searching for something more fulfilling than just an ordinary life.

There are a lot of unhealthy ways that teenage rebellion and experimentation can be directed – here at camp we focus on channeling that energy in positive directions. We foster a sense of community that honors every kind of camper. At OTC friendships develop between different kinds of teens that would almost never interact in a normal high school social scene.”

Find out about Odyssey Teen Camp

A great place for teens to be exactly who they are in a community that celebrates diversity. 

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Come play with us this summer. Join Georgios, and the hundreds of young people who call Odyssey Teen Camp “home” for part of the summer, register now while space is available.

Passionately Becoming True to Ourselves at Summer Camp

Passionately Becoming True to Ourselves at Summer Camp

The following post comes from Phoebe, a current camp counselor, that she wrote about attending Odyssey Teen Camp as a teen. Phoebe’s passion for our loving community shines through here in a way that’s different from the typical posts we share on our blog, and we thought it’d be really valuable to re-share with you. Enjoy!

Phoebe’s Take on Odyssey Teen Camp

“Odyssey Teen Camp is fantasy football, but a little less jockey. I don’t know much about sports, but I am vaguely familiar with the concept of fantasy football. I believe that this is what Odyssey Teen Camp is. It’s a collective of just these superhumans coming together to create this amazing and forceful atmosphere. All these people across America, some from lame suburbia to the complexities of New York City and even across the globe all come together, and together we create a team of humans that’s unlike anything you’ll ever experience.

The kind of people that attract Odyssey Teen Camp, if you come from a small town like me, at best, you could find 2 to 3 in your hometown. However at camp together it’s a population of 200 spectacular humans all bringing something different to the table. We are all so different but all have the same goal in mind, and we just produce this amazing flowing energy of creativity, self-authenticity, and unapologetic self-expression. I think that is what makes the environment so special.

You come into camp, no one knows your backstory, social standing in your high school, or even your last name. I think the anonymity that presents itself towards the campers is what allows us to so passionately become true to ourselves, and for a lot of cases for the first time in our lives. It’s the first time we have this place of just complete radical self-acceptance and once we enter the woods and strip ourselves from the outside world, and judgments, and even cell phones this new mindset just enters so naturally. For 11 months of the year, we are all so inclined to harbor these true emotions or ideas but at Odyssey Teen Camp you are released of any hesitations and have so many crazy opportunities to learn, whether it’s a funky new skill or something about yourself.

One of the most gratifying experiences at Odyssey Teen Camp is just taking a step back and looking at the community itself. You can look into the field and see such a broad spectrum of different of people coexisting so freely. The energy and lovingness this space creates are just so satisfying. A lot of times on the subject of leaving camp the word ‘reality’ often shows up in the conversation, as if this little bubble of utopia is just this synchronized dream a couple of hundred teenagers are experiencing at the same time. What we do and experience at Odyssey Teen Camp is completely real and valid. We made this amazing inclusive environment of just pure joy and simpleness just because we decided to, and that is truly spectacular.”

Superhumans come together at camp

Phoebe’s palpable passion is such a fantastic example of the type of young person that makes our teen camp such a special place to be. By gathering a group of like-minded teens together, we really are able to break down the barriers that define us and open ourselves up to something larger.

So, what do you say? Are you ready to come and be a super-human with us? Are you ready to leave behind the person you might be being for someone else, and dig deeper into who you really are? And, better yet, actually get to BE that person free of judgment?

If so, we’d love to see you this summer. We have some Open Houses coming up this Spring where you can come meet teen camp staff and campers.

Or, if you’re already convinced, you can just go ahead and get registered now.

We can’t wait to see you this summer!

Find out about Odyssey Teen Camp

A great place for teens to be exactly who they are in a community that celebrates diversity. 

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Social Anxiety and Shyness as an Invitation to The Great Unknown

Social Anxiety and Shyness as an Invitation to The Great Unknown

Girl sitting on her camp bed journaling

Every month I receive calls from concerned parents whose teenagers have been diagnosed with social anxiety. They see their teenager spending too much time alone, having trouble making friends, seeming depressed, etc. It’s easy to understand why parents are very worried. I’ve struggled with anxiety most of my life, and I know it can feel painful and constricting to live with. However, when teens diagnosed with social anxiety spend time at camp, it’s evident these wonderful, kind, sensitive, vulnerable, and generally very shy teenagers can find their way.

I’ve read that social anxiety is a commonly diagnosed disorder and 15 million people suffer from it, which makes it the third most common mental health disorder. Social anxiety is characterized by fear of being rejected, criticized, judged, or being perceived unfavorably. It’s a fear of humiliation or embarrassment. Not surprisingly social anxiety becomes more prevalent with the onset of puberty and the powerful physical and emotional changes that come with it. While social anxiety can feel overwhelming, and even debilitating, it seems very human to me.

I’m pretty sure teenagers have always been shy and plenty anxious. They are experiencing so many new and unexpected desires, emotions, and physical changes, it is completely natural to feel confused, awkward, helpless, and hence, anxious. Teens today live in a world where what they do and say can be instantly seen via social media to a vast and sometimes unforgiving audience, it must feel very different than when I was a teen, fifty years ago.

David Whyte, the wonderful poet, said that …

“Shyness is the sense of a great unknown, suddenly about to be known. It is the exquisite and vulnerable frontier between what we think is possible and what we think we deserve.”

I remember reading this passage from a book, the main character is reminiscing about his past (paraphrasing) “When I was a teenager I felt like I was on fire. I remember there were plenty of kids who could happily help me let that fire get out of control, and there were plenty of adults who seemed available to extinguish the fire, but I remember feeling, why is there no one here to help me tend this fire?”

Having to deal with powerful feelings and discover new ways of being in the world is daunting, but what if instead of feeling shame around our shyness and social anxiety, we could look at it as healthy, natural, and even necessary. Uncomfortable feelings are needed as we explore the great new mysteries life is offering us. I will try to view my own social anxiety through that lens.

How does teen camp help teenagers lessen their social anxiety? Well, if our camp is about anything, I think it is about connection. Teenagers recognize fairly quickly at camp that they are not going to be judged harshly, if at all. I believe this helps them relax, let go of some defenses, and share their gifts with peers, sometimes for the very first time.

We create a space where teenagers talk openly about things they are trying to figure out. We offer group discussions on topics like gender, sexuality, race, parents, politics, etc., and teenagers can express themselves in a real, and honest way. While we are not a “therapy camp,” I’ve seen how therapeutic these discussion groups are.

We leave kids alone to read a book when that is what they feel like doing, and they don’t have to always put on a happy face, or act happier than they feel. Finally, if social anxiety is a fear of being rejected then it just makes sense that being in a community where you are seen, accepted, and loved can go a long way towards reducing some of those social anxieties and shyness, and maybe more easily accept that invitation to the great unknown that is our life.

Find out about Odyssey Teen Camp

A great place for teens to be exactly who they are in a community that celebrates diversity. 

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The Link Between Technology & Social Anxiety: Why Face-to-Face Engagement is So Important

The Link Between Technology & Social Anxiety: Why Face-to-Face Engagement is So Important

 

In video 5 my 8 part discussion with Amy Frisch, a wonderful therapist who has been leading teenage girls groups for twenty years, she had some truly helpful things to say around social anxiety.

She talks about how stimulating technology can be and how we need to help our teens learn to quiet their central nervous system. I think we sometimes forget that we are human animals and that when it comes to fear and anxiety our reactions are often not much different than other animals.

My takeaway

My favorite takeaway from this short video is when Amy says that today teens consider “hanging out” what they do on Skype or Snapchat. They don’t call each other on the phone and say “come over to my house, hang out, no one’s home.”

I imagine with so much of our communicating being done through our phone, the idea of sitting face to face feels like too much. Too much pressure, too much stress, and maybe even too much intimacy.

“Consciously Parenting Teens” Video Series

I hope you enjoy the video above. If you haven’t opted in to see the full 8 part series, I do encourage you to see it. Amy has a really unique way of presenting ideas. Here’s the form to subscribe.

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An invitation

I would love to continue this discussion with you in the comments below. If  you feel inspired to share your stories or insights, I would love to hear them.

Setting Screen Time Limits For Teens Without Starting World War 3

Setting Screen Time Limits For Teens Without Starting World War 3


 

In this two minute video Lauren Muriello, LPC of  Well Being Therapy Center offers a few strategies for setting screen time limits for teens so that they can do the things they’re supposed to do, like  studying, eating dinner with the family and sleeping at night. 

When setting limits doesn’t work

Once you have clear guidelines about when phones need to be turned off and put away, (say 5:00-7:00 each night for homework and once they go to bed), if your child is not following the guidelines you’ve established, then it may be time to use technology to your advantage.

Rather than spending time arguing, debating, and nagging your teen to get off their phone, Lauren recommends using an app that allows you to turn your child’s phone off. It’s quick and easy. They may not like it, but if you stick to it they will learn to keep the agreements you’ve made around cell phone usage.

Using the app Lauren recommends eliminates the battle. If used consistently and fairly during the agreed upon hours, your teen will “get it.”They may not like it, but they will get it.

Get the phones out of the bedroom

“I recommend talking as a family about when it’s important to have no technology. You should definitely have a clear time at night where the phones are turned off and are charging out of the bedrooms.“ -Lauren Muriello Click To Tweet

Lauren mentions one study which showed that 30% of teenagers wake up in the night to check their phone. In a BBC article, that number is stated even higher at 45%. That’s crazy. What good can come of that? They can potentially read upsetting texts and end up laying in bed when they could be sleeping.

This is all tough stuff stuff to implement, but the key is consistency and walking your talk. That means it’s equally important for us as parents to model the behavior we want our children to follow.

If we want our kids to turn their tech off during family time then we need to do the same. I realize it’s tricky because sometimes parents have real needs to have their technology on, but I do feel that children copy what they see us do more than what we tell them to do. That is a fact.

“Parenting and Digital Technology” Video Series

I do hope you get a chance to watch the video above and opt-in for the whole series. I think there are some some good takeaways sprinkled throughout. If you missed the opt-in form at the end of the video, here it is again.

Enter your email to see the entire 9 part video series with Lauren Muriello, LPC

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