Bullying Prevention at Summer Camp

Alina Bitel
Written by
for Camps USA
Bullying Prevention at Summer Camp

Camp should be a safe haven for kids, a place where they can learn, develop, have fun, feel comfortable being themselves, and experiment with new things. Unfortunately, as schools are experiencing a rise in bullying, so are camps. The old attitude of "kids will be kids" has been squelched by greater awareness that bullying can deeply damage young lives.

Ensure that your camp remains the safe and fun place it should be by educating yourself and your staff about bullying and enforcing strict anti-bullying policies.

1. Educate yourself.

You can't combat a problem until you know what it is. Bullying takes many forms, so educate yourself about the facts and statistics. Know the warning signs, prevention, intervention, appropriate and effective discipline for bullies, and counseling resources for victims. Learn about the different types of bullying, such as physical, verbal, passive-aggressive, and cyber bullying.

You can also study the social dynamics of bullying, both in general and at your individual camp. For example, if your camp has diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds, multiple socioeconomic statuses, a wide range of ages, and single gender activities, it may be more prone to bullying.

Some excellent resources are the American Camp Association (http://www.acacamps.org/child-health-safety/bullying), Eyes on Bullying (http://www.eyesonbullying.org/), the CDC's research on Electronic Aggression (http://www.cdc.gov/ViolencePrevention/youthviolence/electronicaggression/index.html) and Youth Violence (http://www.cdc.gov/ViolencePrevention/youthviolence/prevention.html), and StopBullying.gov (http://www.stopbullying.gov/).

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2. Create a zero-tolerance policy.

Once you have acquired resources and information about bullying, it is important to establish rules and guidelines for employees, counselors, and campers and outline camp policy in staff training manuals and other literature.

An effective anti-bullying policy should include:

A definition of bullying. Most people know that hitting, kicking, punching, biting, and fighting are unacceptable behaviors, but bullying can take subtler forms as well, such as teasing, intentionally excluding someone, singling someone out, spreading false rumors, making fun of someone, harassing someone on social media, playing mean pranks, and engaging in one-sided horseplay. Define different types of bullying, including physical, emotional, relational, social, psychological, sexual, and online. Provide a list of examples so that your staff know what to look for beyond the obvious.

Preventative measures. Create policies that foster a safe, anti-bullying environment. You might arrange to have constant adult supervision, always make children travel in groups of three or more, strictly forbid any kind of practical jokes or roughhousing, and plan some activities designed to include everyone. Identify potential problem areas at your camp and prevent issues before they arise.

Procedures for addressing bullying. Staff should know how to identify bullying, intervene in situations, discipline campers who bully, counsel the victims, report and document all instances, and follow up. Campers should likewise know what to do when someone bullies them or when they witness bullying.

A zero-tolerance policy. Bullying has an insidious nature. An offhand comment, a racist joke, or a harsh taunt during a game can escalate into something worse. Let everyone at camp know that unwanted harassment, even if it's done "in fun" or without malice, won't be tolerated.


3. Educate staff, parents, and campers.

Taking what you've learned, educate everyone who works at your camp about the facts and statistics of bullying. Train the administration, counselors, teachers, assistants, RAs, and support staff—everyone from the camp nurse to the lunch lady. Host a seminar or orientation session on bullying that explains your camp's specific policies. To reinforce the training, have a few people role play a bullying scene or show a movie clip that depicts bullying. Then, ask staff members to identify the inappropriate words and behaviors and explain what they would do in that situation.

Make sure parents know your policy towards bullying, too. You don't want a call from an angry parent asking why their son or daughter was disciplined or suspended. Let them know what behaviors are not tolerated and what the consequences are. You can also explain what resources are available if their child is the victim of bullying.

Finally, talk with campers about bullying. Tell them that the staff will not tolerate any kind of intimidation, mean-spiritedness, or violence. Explain how they can know if their actions constitute bullying, what they can do if they're the target of bullying, and what they should do if they witness it.


4. Remain vigilant and proactive.

As the summer wears on, it's easy to forget training and education received during orientation. Midway through each session, evaluate your staff on their awareness, preventative measures, and reporting. Give periodic reminders about the zero-tolerance policy, and ask counselors if they have any questions or concerns. Monitor incident reports and address issues as soon as possible. To remind kids about what is appropriate and inappropriate, post a list of cabin rules in every room.

Don't just sit by until a situation explodes. Be proactive in deterring bullying, and encourage your staff to keep their eyes open constantly.

Bullying is a serious issue that can have lifelong consequences. A single instance of vicious treatment can ruin a child's camp experience. Make sure your camp is a bully-free zone by creating a secure and welcoming environment for everyone.

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