Bullying at Summer Camp: Recognizing and Preventing the Issue

Bullying at summer camp can happen just as easily as it can at school or anywhere else. Basically, whenever a group of children gather, there is the potential for one child to make others feel inferior. The main difference between bullying at school and bullying at summer camp is that you don’t get to see your child every day when they go off to camp. This makes it a little more difficult to determine if there is a problem.


Bullying at Summer Camp: How is it different?

Bullying at summer camp is similar to bullying at school, except the victim doesn’t really have a chance to escape the situation. During the school year, kids can come home and get away from the bully every night. It doesn’t make the situation much less stressful for the child, but it at least gives them a reprieve and a safe place to retreat for a bit. At summer camp, victims and bullies are in almost constant contact.

The American Camp Association explains that there are three different types of bullying at summer camp. These include physical, verbal, and relational. As you would expect, physical bullying includes hitting and other acts of assault, while verbal bullying revolves around name-calling. Relational bullying at summer camp involves excluding the victim from activities and limiting his social interaction.

Another issue involves counselors bullying at summer camp. This is particularly upsetting because counselors are supposed to be the leaders of the group. When they bully, they set the rules for others to follow along. Children who have never bullied another child in their lives suddenly see that this is the behavior that is expected of them. They may join in on the bullying simply to be one of the “popular” kids at the camp and get on the counselor’s good side.

Preventing bullying at summer camp requires research before choosing the camp as well as diligence on your part while your child is away. It also involves a level of trust in the camp itself, which is why you should take the steps to ensure you choose the best possible camp for your child.

Tips to prevent bullying at summer camp

  • Choose a camp that focuses on your child’s interests. Rather than just sending your child off to a general summer camp, look for one that focuses specifically on one of his main interests. If your child is into math, for example, find a summer camp that revolves around that. The American Mathematical Society has a list of dozens of math camps in just about every part of the US.  Doing this helps ensures that your child has something in common with the other kids.
  • Ask the right questions. Research the camps you are considering Ask how many children there are per counselor, and how bullying at summer camp is handled. Make sure your child is permitted to call home whenever she feels the need to do so. Tour the camp before sending your child so you can see how counselors interact.
  • Encourage your child to keep in touch. While you shouldn’t expect your child to call you every day, do encourage regular communication. Make sure he knows that he can call you anytime he needs to. Don’t rely on calling the camp to check on your child- make sure you are speaking to him directly. Here’s a personal story- I went to camp when I was 10. I hated it. I cried to come home. The camp told me my mom said I had to stay. I didn’t get to speak to her directly. I was so mad at her for years after that! Turns out, they never even called her. While most camps aren’t like that, speaking to your child directly ensures that you hear right from them that they are enjoying camp.
  • Attend family days. Make it a point to visit your child on the camp’s family days, especially if it is an extended camp visit. Not only does this give you the opportunity to watch for signs of bullying at summer camp, it also gives you a little peace of mind to see in person that your child is thriving just fine!
  • Listen to your child, and your instincts. Many summer camps break up into sessions. When your child comes home, talk in depth about the experience at camp. Watch for signs of bullying, such as withdrawing from favorite activities, self-harming behaviors, and depression. If your child tells you he doesn’t want to return to the camp, take the time to talk it over and find out why. If your instincts are telling you this is not the ideal camp, don’t send him back.

Even if you do everything right, bullying at summer camp can still occur. If it does, talk to the counselors and camp leaders about ways to resolve it. If the bullying can’t be resolved, sometimes the best thing to do is simply remove your child from the situation.   Summer should be a time to unwind from the stress of the school year, not deal with stress on a whole different level.

8 thoughts on “Bullying at Summer Camp: Recognizing and Preventing the Issue”

  1. I went to summer camp for boys 2 years back in the late 1970’s. Bullying was psychological, physical, and sometimes there were outright sexual assaults. This was considered normal. The counselors were mostly college students or teachers during the school year. They tried to be helpful and were most of the time; but the idea to let boys resolve their own conflicts was still deeply ingrained in the culture, so when bullying did occur, my recollection was very few counselors ever intervened. We had no phone calls, all we did were write letters home every few days. The camp highly discouraged phone communication, and my parents were adamant that I “grow up” and learn to cope with the experience. There was one parents day at mid-season. The camp session as a full 8 weeks long, no shorter sessions were available. I have some decent memories of the experience, but in reality I was out of my league. The boys were wealthy Jewish kids from NYC and Philly, and I was a skinny kid with inadequate sports skills and without the level of confidence that was predominant in the camp population. At age 12 in my second and final year, we learned riflery with real ammunition, taught by war veteran instructors. That kind of thing is not likely to be seen at camps any more. Bunks were old, screened in, no amenities, not even a bathroom, which was a short walk to a small building behind the cabin row. Children today are far more coddled and camps provide many more activities and food choices than I had. Not sure if what I experience was in the end better than what goes on nowadays, but I hope all of you make the right choice for your children.

  2. great tips–this is the first year I’m sending my daughter off to overnight camp…we read this together so she will feel free to let me know if anything comes up.

  3. Great article. I didn’t even think of bullying at summer camp. So glad, I never face bullying there like I did sometimes at school.

  4. Great tips! Camp is a wonderful experience but as with every microcosm there can be bad apples. It’s important that a parent knows that the counselors can deal with issues and that your child knows where to turn.

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