For Juniors’ Sake

First, the good news: Your youngest staff members possess a brand of exuberance, creativity, and playfulness that older employees do not. That positive energy is a tremendous asset to the camp.

Junior staffers bring great energy -- and some challenges -- to your camp leadership mix. © kali9 /

When properly fed and watered, some of the junior staffers will eventually grow into unit leaders and administrative staff. That, too, is an asset. Second, the fact you employ junior staff members creates an incentive for the oldest campers to return. The prospect of being chosen to join these ranks is also a powerful motivator of good behavior.

By installing a thoughtful internal leadership-development program, you have ensured solid return rates, improved teenage manners, and invested in the future of the employees.

Pat yourself on the back for solving three vexing problems with one swift stroke. Then cringe at the monsters you’ve created.

OK, junior staff members are not monsters. But there is some bad news: The 16- or 17-year-old junior leaders, leader-corps members, LITs, or CITs (whatever the designation for the youngest personnel) are about a decade shy of having fully myelinated and efficiently pruned frontal lobes.


That’s right. The area of their brains just behind the forehead–the area responsible for impulse control, wise planning, hypothetical thinking, and other so-called “executive functions”–will not mature until the mid-twenties. Until then, you can expect some neurological short-circuiting in the form of impetuous, puerile, egocentric behavior.

Said differently, young staff members do dumb things.

You knew that, of course, and now you know why. The honest answer (though you’ll never get it) to the post-disaster query, “What were you thinking?” is actually “I wasn’t. I can’t. I’m neurologically impaired.” Seriously.

But wait. There’s worse news: Campers are even more neurologically underdeveloped than the junior staff members. In essence, you have chosen to take one impulsive, immature group and put it in charge of an even more impulsive and immature group.

Oh, and did I mention the latter group would be running around in the woods, swimming in the lake, and shooting arrows? Yikes!

Of course, it can’t be that bad or directors wouldn’t work so hard to cultivate their internal leadership programs. Indeed, it isn’t. The benefits of exuberance, creativity, and playfulness far outweigh the liabilities of limited executive function skills.

And when you begin an internal leadership-development program with careful selection and loving mentoring, perilous problems disappear. What remain are typical pitfalls, each potentially corrosive, but none without a solution.

The Trouble With Teens

Here are the most common junior staff troubles:

Acting immaturely.

Junior staff members are young, so they may say or do things that seem immature compared to how you may act. For perspective, recall how you acted at that age. Remember gossiping, giving wedgies, using foul language, and pushing each other into the water? On the plus side, some of this immaturity is hilarious during skit night.

Befriending instead of leading.

Junior staffers are close in age to senior campers, and perhaps have friends who are still campers, so they may want to hang out instead of doing their jobs. Expect the regressive pull of peer interaction to eclipse their job description as instructors. Gently guide them back on track by pointing out that position, not age, defines responsibilities.


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