CHATTANOOGA, TENN. — After years of watching their children trot happily off during the summer to chase soccer balls or practice gymnastics, parents can suddenly face a radically different landscape as their tot turns teen.
"Soccer camp?" the suddenly blase child may ask incredulously. Not cool, Dad. Don't ask me to make any more pine-cone wreaths, either. And rest hour - forget it.
It's also from this older age group that parents most often hear those dreaded words: "I'm bored."
"If you start to go to camp at age 6, 7, or 8 and you've done swimming, hiking, and canoeing, come age 12, 13, and 14, you're going to want and need a different experience," says Bob Schultz, of the American Camping Association.
Deciding what that will be can be tough. Sports camps on college and high school campuses are popular with both sexes. But other specialized camps shouldn't be ruled out, Mr. Schultz says.
Schultz notes that many camps now offer more adventurous activities, such as white-water rafting, obstacle courses, ropes courses, rock climbing, and rappelling.
"Many camps have a tracking program where you go to the same camp, but you will not be doing the same thing as a 9-year-old that you will as a 15-year-old," he says. "If you go as a 14-year-old, you may show up on opening day of camp and not see that property again until the last day of camp. You might be on a trip backpacking in the mountains of West Virginia or rafting on the Ocoee River in Tennessee."
Some young teens devote part of their vacation to helping others. Beau and Julian Bradley dug garden plots and did other heavy chores at a community garden outside an apartment complex for low-income senior citizens here. Although their help was initially volunteered by their mom, they ended the summer feeling pleased that they had been able to lend a hand to neighbors in need.
Chase and Will Whitmire have spent several weeks during the past three summers in rural Jamaica with the Lookout Mountain Presbyterian Church in Lookout Mountain, Ga.
"They helped build houses and latrines; they helped missionaries; they went to a government-run infirmary where the people were especially destitute," says their mother. "The stories they told were heartbreaking and heartening."
Although Mrs. Whitmire confesses that she feels concern when her sons leave on these trips, she sees the favorable effect spending time serving others has had on them. When her son Chase returned the first year, she says, "he told me when he got off the plane, 'I will never be the same again.' It has had a real impact on them."