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Effects of summer camp on adolescent growth

In the life of an adolescent, views of the world and God are highly dependent on that of their parent or guardian. Growing up, the influence of who they are and who God is, comes from what they are told by mom and dad. Eventually, they are surrounded by peers whose influence slowly adds to their worldview of what they believe about God and themselves.

Emotionally, adolescents are overwhelmed by hormones and confusion of different feelings. They feel strong emotion but cannot pinpoint where it is coming from. These children begin to feel a distance and separation from their parents and draw closer to their peers who are experiencing similar things.

As this emotional rollercoaster is pushing youth from their parents, it is also pushing them further from God. The emotional development of an adolescent is not the only contribution to a lacking faith in children during this time. The church has a particularly hard time communicating what faith in God really means at this stage of life. Leaving youth confused and uninformed of God’s love and their significant role in God’s heart.

Kenda Dean hits the nail on the head in her book, Almost Christian. She talks about the rising number of teens today who practice Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD). “It offers comfort, bolsters self-esteem, helps solve problems, and lubricates interpersonal relationships by encouraging people to do good, feel good, and keep God at arm’s length.”[1] This practice is not bad in a moral sense, but God is not at an arm’s length. God is all around and in every situation. He is as close as one’s breath.

In this time where youth are clinging to this theology and feeling as if God is somehow uninterested in their life, Christian camp ministry is telling them the opposite. Coming to camp removes youth from their regular routines and places them in a safe environment where they can no longer rely on their friends or parents’ faith.

At camp, kids learn to make decisions about who God is based on the Gospel truth being presented to them in a space where they have time to reflect. Does this completely fix the issue of MTD? Not a chance, but it is a space of time where this idea is disassembled and pieced back together in truth.

College students who have devoted their summer to teaching youth the truth of God and His love have the opportunity to speak into areas where the camper normally has built up emotional walls. Youth find out the distance they think they are from God is merely a deeply rooted lie that they have believed. Camp helps youth reverse those lies and exchange them for truth.

[1] Dean, Kenda Creasy. Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers Is Telling the American Church. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2010.

-Sara Rodriguez
Youth Program Manager
Warm Beach Camp

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