Worried About Making Friends at Camp? DBT Can Help

If you’re going to a new camp for the first time, where you don’t know that many faces, you may be nervous about friends. While you may or may not have a bunch of friends back home or at school, camp is a whole different setting. What if nobody likes you? Nobody talks to you? What if you have to spend every rec hour by yourself because everyone thinks you’re weird?

If you’re going to sleepaway camp, you might be even more anxious. In contrast to school or at home, there’s nowhere to escape if you’re lonely. You’ll be sleeping in a bunk with a bunch of other teens. Your fellow bunkmates may or may not be friendly to you. Almost every hour of the day will be spent in the company of others. While gregarious teens may be in their element, more introverted teens—or those with anxiety—may be nervous about having to socialize practically 24/7.

Thankfully, Dialectical Behavior Therapy has some strategies that might help. DBT’s Interpersonal Effectiveness skills are helpful for all teens, but especially those for whom social interactions don’t come naturally, or for adolescents with social anxiety who have trouble making friends.

Here are some DBT tips that are useful for making friends, adapted from DBT’s Interpersonal Effectiveness module:

  1. Find common interests or similarities.

    In DBT, you learn how to identify friends who seem similar to you, and/or have similar interests. That’s not to say that you can’t be friends with peers who are wildly different, but a lot of adolescents find it easy to be attracted to those who share the same lifestyle or interests. For example, is your bunkmates also a Game of Thrones fan? That could be the springboard for lots of discussions. Is another teen also from your city? You can bond over that common similarity.

  2. Know how to identify an open conversation.

    In camp, there will inevitably be opportunities where you’ll want to join an ongoing group of peers who are talking. However, you may not now know how to do so, or you might be too nervous that they’ll brush you off. DBT teaches you how to identify “closed” groups, which may not be a smart idea to approach, vs. “open” groups, where new members are welcome.

  3. Be a good conversationalist.

    There is an art to asking and responding to questions appropriately. People love being heard, so listen to others attentively. Don’t interrupt. Don’t be judgmental. When someone asks you a question, don’t just give a yes or no answer. Elaborate with a bit more detail than they asked about, and then turn the conversation back to them. You can also read articles and watch others’ conversations to learn more about how to have great dialogue.

  4. Use positive body language.

    Be gentle in your mannerisms, maintain eye contact, and act interested in what the other person is saying. Smile when appropriate, use humor, and don’t have an attitude—even if you’re in a bad mood. Most people don’t like spending time with peers who are negative.

  5. Validate others.

    Part of being a good listener means validating the speaker so they feel understood and at ease with you. One way you can do this is by reflecting back on the other person when they finish talking, before you share your response. So if your friend is talking about how much he loved a specific basketball game, a brief “that must have been really fun” or “sounds like you like sports” can make him feel understood, and open up the conversation further.

  6. Self-disclose smartly.

    Many teens will be turned off by those who share too much, too fast, with the other person. DBT teaches you when and how to share private things with your new friend. (Hint: a lot of it is about matching the other person’s level of self-disclosure!)

  7. Express liking.

    You can share that you admire the other person; people like others who like them. However, don’t be a suck-up. You can compliment others, but don’t praise too excessively. Sometimes, it just seems fake.

  1. Participate in activities.

    Even if you’re too nervous for Sports, too tired for Art, and dread Color War, try to put in the effort to join anyway. Go with the flow. Join the group in as many activities you can. Peers are often more likely to enjoy spending time with others who are involved in the same activities as they are. That being said…

  2. Don’t sell yourself short, just to fit in.

    If a friend is talking about something you’re not comfortable with, and he’s looking at you for agreement, don’t feel like you need to agree just to fit in. This applies in other camp situations as well: If all your friends are doing something you don’t want to do, like playing a prank on your counselor while he’s asleep, you can say no.

  3. And lastly: Be clear with your requests.

    This is especially important when you’re living with a bunch of other peers for weeks at a time. For example, let’s say you’re exhausted and it’s past lights-out. You can’t sleep, though, because your bunkmates keep talking loudly. It’s okay to ask them respectfully if they can quiet down. You shouldn’t be too harsh with them, but you don’t have to over-apologize for the request, either. Your bunkmates may not be too happy to whisper, but they may respect you in the long run for being assertive and standing up for yourself. Because of this, it’s likely that you may gain a friend or two the next morning—there may be others who were too embarrassed or scared to stand up to the loud kids!

Adapted from: DBT Skills Training Handouts and Worksheets by Marsha M. Linehan (Copyright 2015)