By Derek Randel
My nine year-old son, Brett, was sitting at dinner last night playing with his food. I could tell something was wrong. Finally, he let it out, “I thought I wouldn’t be picked on, at least for the summer.” It turns out that he was being bullied again at day camp.
I contacted the camp director and informed him of what Brett told me. His response was, “We didn’t see anything so there is nothing we can do.” If I understand this correctly, at least one of his campers is scared to return to camp and he says there is nothing he can do about this situation? This is not acceptable. I believe there is a lack of concern at the administrative level and a lack of training and support for the counselors.
Most camp counselors are high school or college students. How much do they know about recognizing, addressing, and preventing bullying? Many people believe bullying is something that happens to all children and we’re just making a fuss over this. They will get over it, right? Maybe we should just tell them to grow up and handle it? Wrong. Adults shouldn’t be ignoring it. We need to stop the “boys will be boys” mentality.
Here are a few guidelines addressing issues so you as the parent, can become proactive, not reactive. It is important that you are your child’s advocate.
Signs Something Might Be Wrong
Discuss these areas with your child and their counselor if you suspect he/she is being bullied.
1. Notice if he always seems very hungry. Maybe someone is taking his lunch or lunch money.
2. Does he have a fear of going to certain activities? There is a reason he may have this fear: it could be his dislike for the activities, he may not be confident about the craft, or possibly, he is being bullied.
3. Does he have missing belongings or torn clothes? You may want to look at whether this is his normal pattern or completely out of character. How often does this happen? Does he have lots of bruises or cuts?
4. Does he play alone or with friends while at camp?
5. Does he have stomachaches, headaches, anxiety, sleeplessness, depression, and flashes of anger or hostility? Does he need to see the camp nurse often?
Options for Parents and Counselors:
Our job as parents, teachers, and counselors is to provide tools for our children to handle bullying. Empowering your camper to handle each situation is the best way to get involved. We want the victim to know that the bullying is the problem, not him. He has the right to feel safe and secure at all times.
Tips for Counselors:
1. Talk to the campers about feeling safe. This is the easiest place to start, but most do not do this. Encourage the child to report any bullying incidents to you.
2. Validate your camper’s feelings. It is normal for the victim to feel hurt, sad, and angry.
3. Ask the camper how they have tried to stop the bullying.
4. Coach the camper in alternatives: playing in a different place, playing a different game, staying near a counselor, and looking for new friends. Avoidance can also be an excellent strategy.
5. Encourage the child to seek help from all camp personnel including the support staff.
6. Do not ignore the camper’s reports. Ignoring them sends the wrong message.
7. Teach about self-respect. A good topic for open discussions is: why does someone else’s opinion of you count more than your own?
8. Give numerous positive comments to the campers.
9. Avoid labeling or name-calling. Model the behavior you want. Counselors must model desired behavior. Hazing, name-calling and making fun of campers cannot be permitted.
What to Look for in a Summer Camp
We want our children to feel wanted, safe, and successful at camp. Here are a few items to discuss with the camp director before signing your child up.
1. Do they give the campers a survey on bullying problems? This is a good way to find out what is really going on.
2. Ask about camp supervision of children. This has been found to be of prime importance. Low levels of camp supervision, particularly on the playground, locker rooms, and in cabins, need to be addressed.
3. The camp climate needs to be one of warmth and acceptance of all campers. Counselors’ attitudes toward aggression, their skills with regard to supervision and abilities to intervene can change how campers react to each bullying situation. How much training do the counselors receive?
4. Counselors have reported that locker rooms are prime locations for bullying. How many counselors are placed in the locker areas? There needs to be at least two because one counselor shouldn’t be in the locker room or showers alone with campers.
5. Good communication between the camp and parents is very important. How often do the counselors talk with the parents?
6. Does the camp have group discussions about bullying? This topic needs to be out in the open.
7. How does the camp staff address bullying incidents? Do they talk with the bully and victim separately or together? It needs to be done separately.
8. Do they monitor the behavior of the bully and the safety of the victim on a camp-wide basis? All personnel need to be involved. If the counselors are not aware of who is bullying whom, then how will they be able to watch specifically for the bully or the victim.
Just like in schools, bullies must be held accountable for their actions. Counselors must set limits and boundaries without using idle threats if they want to be taken seriously. Parents must ask their camp directors about their counselors’ training. If you’re uncomfortable with their answer, then there is always another camp for your child. Summers are supposed to be fun.
This guest post is by Derek Randel who runs stoppingschoolviolence.com a resource for those who seek academic success without fear.
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