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Camp Programs That Trigger Bullying


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Apr 3, 2008, 2:42 PM

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Camp Programs That Trigger Bullying Can't Post

By Lynda Fishman, M.S.W.

Owner, Executive Director

Adventure Valley Day Camp

As an experienced Day Camp Director in Toronto, I am very tuned into bullying and aware of the harmful effects it has on the victims, the witnesses and the bullies.

There are some programs and activities at summer camps involving the selection of other campers or staff members that will actually trigger bullying.

"Secret friend" is a classic example of a camp activity that rapidly evolves into the spotlight. It is set up so that everyone selects a secret friend from "a hat" and secretly delivers notes and gifts to that person.

Receiving notes and gifts from anonymous sources ultimately ensures that campers and staff would be able to assess and compare who receives what, with on-going speculation and remarks. Furthermore, since the donor knows the recipient, the gifts and notes will reflect their attitude and feelings about that person.

Obviously, if they really like or admire the person, the items will reveal their feelings. Likewise, if the recipient is not their friend, and for that matter, not someone they choose to befriend, their spirit for the game and visible tokens will be equally obvious.

Another example is team selection; whereby a camper or staff member is the "captain" who is empowered to select his/her team. The captain is thereby asked to engage in a selection process of singling out and thereby blatantly ranking popularity and talent. This passive-aggressive form of bullying also occurs in the schools.

Sadly, Valentine's Day is a perfect example of how schools may use the "holiday" to organize fundraising activities, and at the same time, fuel indirect or relational bullying. When students have the opportunity to purchase valentine's treats (chocolates, cookies, etc.) for others, and these are then distributed to the recipient students, obviously some students will receive numerous treats and others will receive none.

The schools are effectively encouraging the students to engage in a selection process whereby they decide who they will single out with a visible token of their friendship.

By delivering the treats to the classrooms, the schools thereby ensure that students would be able to assess and compare who receives what from whom.

Students are inevitably "rated" by the number of treats they receive, ultimately resulting in a popularity contest. Those students for whom this is a negative experience have the added humiliation of knowing that their status will be visible to everyone else in their class.

Whether we are talking about camp or school, needless to say there have to be many kids who experience anxiety with these sorts of activities. They provide an opportunity for kids to passively or aggressively bully others into disclosing information, choosing them, buying gifts or treats for them; some kids will participate while feeling unpopular, rejected, excluded, alone and disconnected; bullies may grab this opportunity to mock and berate.

Ultimately, these events fuel social exclusion and other forms of indirect or relational bullying.

Specifically, I am very concerned that with everything we know about bullying, there are still camps and schools constructing systems whereby kids are encouraged to selectively acknowledge others. This generates the type of negative behaviour and insidious bullying that the organizations on the other hand profess to oppose and seek to discourage.

By allowing these activities, they are creating an environment where, at best, some kids are happy while others are hurt, and, at worst, victimized by the type of social exclusion and relational bullying that occurs even without such an adaptable delivery system.

Every child, regardless of their age, has the right to attend camp and school, in a supportive, caring and safe environment, WITHOUT the fear of being bullied.

This is not a trivial matter.

Camps and schools treat bullying as a serious offence and attempt to take every possible action to reduce it through proactive measures and reactive strategies. Child-care organizations have taken a strong stand against bullying and have created anti-bullying policies and on-going related training for the staff.

Regardless of how many handouts it prints about bullying, a camp or school which endorses programs that promote exclusion loses credibility and risks missing the opportunity to gain the trust of victims to come forward. It also sends a message to bullies that visibly engaging in selectivity and exclusion are acceptable.

There should be policies within the camps and schools that prohibit the organizing of activities such as sending anonymous notes and gifts, or selecting fellow teammates. While well intentioned, in actual fact these sorts of activities serve to create the ideal delivery system for bullying that can have inevitable and obvious bullying consequences and long term effects.

Lynda Fishman, M.S.W.

Owner, Executive Director

Adventure Valley Day Camp


(This post was edited by Lynda_Fishman on May 1, 2008, 11:49 AM)


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