Malia Obama loved it: helping your teenager decide about camp

Malia Obama loved it: helping your teenager decide about sleepaway camp can be a tough decision. Our teen experts advise an open, honest and measure approach to talking about this fun American tradition.

Charles Dharapak/AP
Malia Obama loved it: helping your teenager decide about sleepaway camp can be a tough decision. Our teen experts advise an open, honest and measure approach to talking about this fun American tradition. This Jan. 4, 2010 file photo shows President Barack Obama as he walks with daughters Malia, left, and Sasha as they return to the White House after a vacation in Hawaii. Malia, 12, went away at sleepaway camp this summer for the first time.

Talk to a group of teens and they will tell you that they can't wait until the summer so that they can return to the sleepaway camp that they've been going to for years. They just can't wait to spend several weeks living together in a cabin often on bunk beds with others that they have come to regard as part of their extended family. And, many of these teens grow up and become too old to be campers and go on to become counselors at these same camps.

Many, also, keep their camp friends for years and include them among their closest friends.

For many teens, there is something so special about being away from home, feeling independent,and creating and sharing special moments with their peers. I recently spoke to my own daughter about why she loved sleepaway camp and she said that the girls in her bunk really gelled and formed incredible bonds. Oh yes. She did say that it was nice to get away from parents for the summer.

Keep in mind that sleepaway camp is not for everyone. I didn't like it. My daughter started going at age 11 and loved it.

Parents often ask how they will know if their child is ready for a camp away from home. Here are some general guidelines.

1. If your child is starting to talk about it then she may be ready.

2. A child who does well away from home may also be showing signs of readiness. A child who is uncomfortable with sleepovers is certainly not a candidate for four weeks at a camp away from home.

3. Adaptibility and flexibilty are important traits to look for in your child. If your child adapts well to changes then this is a good predictor that she will benefit from a camp that is suited to her.

4. Ask yourself if your child has a reasonable set of social skills. If not, then perhaps this should be dealt with before sending your child away from home.

5. Are you comfortable with the idea of sleepaway camp? If you are strongly against it then your child is unlikely to feel good about the idea.

If you have determined that your child is ready to go away to camp then first you need to find the right camp that meets your child's interests whether they include art, athletics, or even academic enrichment.

Next, I would suggest starting out with two or three weeks the first summer and increase the length of stay the following summer if all goes well. Finally, help your child prepare for camp by perhaps having them meet some of their campmates before camp starts.

Related: Are you a Helicopter Parent? Take our quiz to find out!

Act upbeat about it and your mood will be contagious. Keep in mind, of course, that sending your kids to sleepaway camp is a very personal family decision.

I hope it goes well. 

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best family and parenting bloggers out there. Our contributing and guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor, and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. Jennifer Powell-Lunder and Barbara Greenberg blogs at Talking Teenage.

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