Teen camps have been around for a long while – in fact, Outward Bound started around 80 years ago – and they can be a great way to break teens out of a rut. In just a few days, your teen will learn new skills, meet new people, challenge themselves and create some pretty fantastic memories, and all you have to do is drop them off and pick them up (although the washing situation may be a bit concerning once you get home).
There are quite a few different types of camps, so whether your teen is an outdoorsy type, or would prefer more inside activities, you’ll be able to find something that works. We’re not talking about the 6-week Summer Camp style you can find in the US; these camps are generally short term and run by adults, not college students.
In this article, we’ve looked at the thinking behind youth camps and how they work, covered the types of camps you can choose from, talked about the costs you can expect (and how to get funding), and we’ve also covered some of the key things to look for to make sure your teen will be in good hands.
What are youth camps?
In a nutshell, you’ll drop your teen off and they’ll spend between 2 days and 2 weeks having a blast with a group of people their age, led by qualified and engaging staff. Research shows that children grow and mature more quickly during a youth camp, and that this growth is still evident six months later, so while they might be having fun, they’ll also be learning.
Camps use a strengths-based approach and growth mindset principles to encourage kids to try new things and push their boundaries, in a way that’s hard to replicate at home or at school. They’re in a new, unfamiliar place, with different people, and this can make it easier for them to challenge their assumptions about what’s possible.
Educational experiences are structured to be fun and engaging, and while everything will be inside the limits of what your child is capable of, they may not see that at first, which is where the growth bit happens. If you’ve ever done any adventure training then you have been through this yourself – abseiling down a building may seem really scary, but you are safe the entire time. Pushing yourself to do something that you don’t think you can do builds resilience and personal strength, and can be great for teens.
What you need to know
Anywhere from 2 days (overnight) to 2 weeks or longer. Usually, camps are around 5 days in length and most of them are held in the school holidays, which means your child won’t need to miss school to attend.
Anywhere. You’ll find camps all over Australia, including in regional locations. Your teen might need to travel if the camp they want to go to isn’t around the corner, but usually the organisers will have a system to make sure your child can be picked up and returned to the nearest transport hub.
With food, accommodation, activities and everything else included, camps can be pricy. Many offer discounts for booking early, so if you can get in on the Early Bird rates then that can save you. Some programs also offer sponsored spots for children from low-income families.
What to look for in a leadership camp for your teen?
If you’re going to send your teenager away then you need to trust the people you’re sending them with. Check that they use qualified staff with an education background, and that they seek working with children checks from their employees. Most reputable camps will state this and make it really clear that they do the right thing.
Take a minute to check out their reputation, especially if you haven’t heard of them before, and look for reviews online if you’re at all concerned.
Is their focus right for your child? If your teen is mad keen for adventure and action, and the camp offers lots of down time and group discussions then they may not be the right match. Likewise, some camps, such as Outward Bound, work to really extend your child, which can be great if they’re in the right headspace, but if there are any mental health concerns you should check first with a doctor.
What types of teen camp are available?
Most teen camps are based around activities; either outdoor, adventure style activities, like rock-climbing and hiking, or sports-based activities like soccer intensives. There are also religious camps, and camps for children going through illness or grief.
We’ve also seen the rise of military style ‘boot-camps’ which promise to help transform your ‘troubled’ teen (their term, not ours). We’ve listed some of them here, but please do all your own research if you’re considering sending your child to one of these places, and look for reviews and affiliation with mental health services and psychologists.
We’ve collected some camp providers here for you – all of these groups are running camps right now, and have COVID-19 policies in place:
Outdoor & Adventure Camps
Outward Bound – hiking, kayaking, activities and more, based in Canberra, with some programs in Victoria and WA
Young Endeavour – sail on a tall ship with the Royal Australian Navy. Must be 16-23 and in NSW, ACT, Queensland or Victoria
Veteran Mentors – boot-camp style program for troubled youth in Brisbane
Mental Health & Faith Camps
Feel the Magic – for children grieving the loss of a parent, sibling or legal guardian, in NSW, Victoria and ACT
CRU Camps – NSW religious camps. They offer study camps, faith camps, snow camps, and activity camps
Autism Camp Australia – these are family-based camps with separate programs for parents, autistic young people, and siblings in Byron Bay and the Sunshine Coast
Canteen Summer Fun – for young people living with cancer
Acting Academy – teen acting camp near Brisbane
Camp Cooby – leadership and adventure camps in Queensland
National Youth Science Forum – 10-12 days of in-person and digital STEM experiences at the start of Year 12 (apply in Year 11) – Canberra
YMCA Space Squad – 5 day camps where you’ll learn about the space industry – Canberra
Mission Discovery Space Camp – work with NASA astronauts on space projects. In Brisbane and Adelaide
Spark Engineering Camps – week-long camp in July, held in Brisbane and Melbourne
Engineering Summer School – for Year 11 students in NSW, you’ll visit universities, meet engineers, and see engineering in action
QUT STEM Camp – October each year for Year 11 students. Week-long camp where you’ll get to innovate and engage and explore QUT
InspireU Camps – for Indigenous students in Queensland, there are STEM and health science camps throughout the year
Queensland Outdoor Education – from music camps to leadership retreats