Community Service Summer Camps for 12YO?

My son has been attending fun-filled summer camps every year for his whole childhood. He is 12 now and I'm starting to think this is no longer a good thing. He is developing a sense of entitlement about every summer and every school break—as if it is meant to be all about him at all times.

He also doesn't believe me when I tell him not all kids get to go to camp, that many kids live in apartments or homeless shelters instead of houses, that lots of families go to the laundromat because they don't have washers and dryers where they live, etc., etc. As my words were having no impact, I had him watch a documentary about poverty in America. He said it was sad but nobody he knows in Berkeley lives like that so he should still get to do all the fabulous things that all the wealthy Berkeley families do. 

Mind you, we don't live like a super wealthy family. We drive an old used car, have never had a video game player, we have not given him an iPhone or a tablet, we have not taken him on any vacations out of the country or to expensive resorts, his life is not filled with material stuff in any sense. But maybe we have made the mistake of believing it is our job to ensure all of his days are filled with fun activities. It makes me sad that he doesn't see his life as one filled with good-fortune, but instead as something his parents are "supposed" to give to him. 

I would like to change this by helping him to discover the joy of contributing to others instead of just the joy of his own entertainment.  I'm going to sign us up to volunteer at a shelter on the weekends, but I really also want to find a sleepaway summer camp that is about helping others. And not the kind of "helping" that flies kids off to Puerto Rico or Barcelona for an exciting adventure in the guise of a "volunteer opportunity," which seems to be the only thing I can find online. 

Would love to hear if any of you have found something like this. 

Parent Replies

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I think volunteering to "help others" is not going to change his perspective all that much, as opposed to being immersed in a more diverse peer environment at or outside of school. Does he go to public school? What about going to a free summer program such as Aim High? If this is not possible a simple change would be to be a CIT rather than a camper, and have some responsibility for younger kids. At a public summer day camp rather than at an expensive sleepaway camp.

I hear you on kids feeling like they are entitled. That's something that we battle in our family as well. I don't have an option that directly fits your ask about summer camp, but I did want to share that my kids, both now teens, have been attending a backpacking & nature-focused camp called Camp Woolman. I like that it's a down-to-earth, rustic place where kids are expected to pitch in and help. Although it's camp and mainly about fun, the kids still have to do rotation on dish duty and other chores. There are lots of kids from a wide-range of socio-economic backgrounds and alternative family structures. My kids have been exposed to many people that they wouldn't have otherwise met (we live in Lamorinda). While at camp, they spend time hiking on the Pacific Crest Trail, and being in nature and away from technology is a wonderful thing! Good luck with your search.

Having been through something similar with my tween daughter, I have some slightly alternate suggestions based on my own experience. I think the thing for me is not just that kids need to understand their social privilege, it's also about gaining independence by taking action and being self-sufficient - going beyond "Mom and Dad take care of everything for me". To that end, one thing that has made a big difference is Scouts. I know it's not that politically popular here, but in addition to the  community service orientation, scouting encourages kids to make their own group decisions as a troop and also their activities - such as camping - require everyone to pitch in. I have seen tremendous growth in my child in terms of being proactive and thinking of others.

Also, my child loves animals, and so we have collectively gotten involved with volunteering with an animal-related charity. It's not about helping needy people, but I see the empathy kick in about someone outside herself. Remember that your 12-year-old is at an age where he doesn't look so kindly on being forced to do things by mom and dad... it's all about him beginning to take ownership. Hope that helps. 

It sounds to me like you have the best of intentions but you are still engineering your child's life. I'd suggest sending him to a camp that is more "cheap and cheerful" next year. Our kid goes to camp through Oakland Parks and Rec, which is a very affordable but decent day camp (meets at Montclair Rec center). If this isn't close to you then perhaps you can find another very basic camp run by the city you live in. The YMCA also offers some good basic camps. At these camps he will meet people who are less privileged than you have inadvertently raised him to be. This might help get him on a better path and it sounds like might be more in line with your pocket book and your own values. 

He is also getting to the age where he can be a councilor in training which might give the type of experience he needs in having to look out for those who are younger than he is. 

Your heart is in the right place! Good luck.