Cincinnati Family Magazine

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April 18, 2024


If your teen isn’t old enough to get a job and is too old for camp, consider a Counselor-in-Training program.

Full1334.jpgIs your young teen insisting that she’s too old to attend camp this summer? On the other hand, are you thinking that summer camp is still a worthwhile venture considering the alternative – just hanging out all day? Your teen may not be old enough to get a summer job at a local retail store, but she considers herself too mature to frolic in the lake or make crafts with the younger campers. There is a solution to this dilemma. Young teens can participate in CIT (Counselor-In-Training) programs at many camps throughout Tennessee.

These are programs designed for young teens who are serious about assuming the responsibility and effort it takes to work with young children in a camp setting. There are usually a limited number of openings, and some camps only consider those teens who have been “campers” in previous years. Therefore, you will need to inquire about this as you begin to research local camps. The application process varies from camp to camp as well. It can be as simple as filling out a form to going on an interview and submitting references.

What CIT Programs Are All About

Counselor-In-Training programs (sometimes called Leadership Training programs) are intended to train teens to become future counselors, leaders and mentors. There are a variety of responsibilities given to these trainees and the scope of varies enormously from camp to camp. Some of these might include: organizing and planning activities, leading teams in various projects, helping out with camp maintenance, assisting counselors with office work, assisting at various athletic activities, etc. These trainees are usually still considered “campers,” but they assume more responsibilities and are given leadership roles at the camp.

Most teens in CIT programs are still considered minors and are not paid. Counselors-In-Training usually pay a “camper’s” fee, but this fee is often reduced. The teens are expected to split their time between being a camper and spending time working as a CIT. Counselors-In-Training at day camps are usually 14 to 16 years old. Resident camps (overnight camps) usually expect applicants to be 16 or 17, because teens cannot become a senior counselor at an overnight camp until they reach 18. In some of these instances, the Counselors-In-Training are paid a stipend or given “tips.”

Benefits for Teens

Teens who participate in CIT programs reap many benefits, gaining confidence in themselves and their special abilities and talents. Most camp directors expect that CITs will learn leadership skills, develop responsibility and competency, acquire a strong work ethic, gain decision-making skills and learn to be part of a team working towards a common goal. Teens also learn the value of being positive role models and mentors for younger kids. These programs serve as a release from the academic pressures teens are faced with during the school year, yet they still provide an excellent learning experience.

The completion of a CIT program also looks great on college applications. Participation shows a willingness to work hard and take on the responsibility necessary to work with young children. In addition, program directors produce great references, because they can write about a trainee’s strengths and accomplishments in detail.

The Application Process

The application process varies from camp to camp. Some require interviews and references. Others only accept applications from teens who have been “campers” in previous years. Therefore, it is important to call the camp you have in mind prior to applying.

Camps are looking for teens who are excited about becoming mentors to younger kids. So it is imperative that your teen lists any experiences she has had in this area. Babysitting, tutoring younger students and community service positions (such as reading to youngsters at a local library) look great on an application. Teens should list skills or sports they are good at on their application as well. For instance, if a teen has lots of experience with tennis, a camp director might foresee using her as an assistant coach in his tennis program.

Finding the Right Fit

Your teen will have a better experience if the camp she chooses fits her abilities, skills and interests. You should ask your friends and neighbors about camps that their children attended, particularly if they participated in CIT programs. It is always good to hear from someone who has experienced the program first hand.

If you do not have access to such references and you are not familiar with the local camps (maybe your family has recently moved to a new area), a good place to start is with the American Camping Association (ACA). Every camp is not right for every child, and members of the ACA visit the camps every summer and see first hand what the camps are all about. Tennessee parents can visit the Heart of the South Section of the American Camping Association at to view a listing of ACA accredited camps in their area. Parents can also contact Wanda DeWaard, section executive at 888-829-2267. For information on what to look for in a camp and to find out what to ask camp directors visit If possible, visit the camp in person before sending in an application.

Whether your child goes on to become a counselor or utilizes her experience at a completely different job in the future, attending a CIT program at a local camp is a great way for young teens to garner leadership skills that will last a lifetime – and have fun in the process!

Myrna Beth Haskell is a freelance writer and mother.


The American Camping Association (ACA) is a private, not-for-profit educational organization dedicated to enhancing the quality of summer camp experiences for children. A search on the ACA website can yeild camps located within a certain number of miles from your home.

  • Go to ACA’s website at
  • Click “Find A Camp”
  • Click “Activity”
  • Click “Counselor Training”
  • Click “Tennessee” under State/Region
  • Search

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