Camp Articles


That Was Then, This Is Now

Bob Dylan sang, "The Times They Are A-Changin'". Yes, these are unprecedented and extraordinary times, which the camping industry must face.

The challenges of terrorism on September 11 and the subsequent bioterrorism threat (be it real or imagined) will have a pervasive effect on organized camping in 2002.

Camp owners and directors must deal with the reality of, "That was then and this is now" in the ongoing preparation for the 2002 camping season.

Even though the events seem ever-distant, reviewing and updating health, safety and security issues, in conjunction with human relations and communication procedures, become an even greater priority for camp administrators.

Warning Signs

Optimism for the re-enrollment of former campers, their siblings and staff prevails. However, the question of parents sending their first-time campers to attend day, residential, travel and other summer camp programs is certainly speculative at this time.

International staff coming to this country to fill camp positions has not been clearly determined as primetime recruitment is taking place. Uncertainty about enrollment of campers and the hiring of international staff has become a dilemma for camp administrators.

That which has been customary or perhaps even taken for granted at camp must be reviewed, revised and updated under the ominous umbrella of insecurity and anticipatory anxiety which have resulted from terrorism and bio-terrorism.

Parents must be contacted and reassured that the recent catastrophes are being considered in the planning process for the 2002 camp season.

A National Center for PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) Fact Sheet has recently been forwarded to schools, camps and other organizations concerning the recognition of the impact of terrorism on children and adults.

A number of physiological, psychological and social behavioral responses at home and school to terrorism can be transported to camp and must be addressed by camp administrators.

The aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing in 1993 and the other more recent traumatic events have provided significant information that can be helpful in the process of better understanding the impact of terrorism on the camp's population.

The enclosed references from the PTSD Fact Sheet contain some excerpts of behavioral responses that children, adolescents and staff may demonstrate at camp, which are noted by D. DeWolfe, 2001; and R. Pynoos and K. Narder, 1993.

School-Aged Children (6-11 years)

• Separation anxiety from primary caretakers

• Safety concerns, preoccupation with danger

• Obvious anxiety and fearfulness

• Changes in behavior, mood and personality

• Somatic symptoms (complaints about bodily aches, pains)

• Sleep disturbances, nightmares

• Fear of feelings and trauma reactions

• Close attention to parents' anxieties

• Worry and concern for others

Pre-adolescents and Adolescents (12-18 years)

• Trauma-driven acting-out behavior: sexual acting out or reckless, risk-taking behavior

• Flight into driven activity and involvement with others or retreat from others in order to manage inner tu moil

• Increased self-focusing and withdrawal

• Sleeping and eating disturbances; nightmares

• Abrupt shift in relationships

• Self-consciousness

• Rebellion at home, school, or camp

• Depression, social withdrawal

• Effort to distance from feelings of shame, guilt, and humiliation

• Wish for revenge and action-orientated responses to trauma

The result of these physical, psychological and socio-cultural implications may be demonstrated at camp. Books, periodicals and other media outlets have presented a proliferation of information about PTSD -- its symptoms, resultant behavior and treatment.

Constructive recommendations about preparation for and implementation of procedures to deal with today's issues and problems must be incorporated into the daily life of each camp, including…

• Communication to parents, campers and staff concerning the health, safety and security of the camp environment

• On the camp's medical examination form and personality checklist, there are questions about how the events since 9/11 have effected the family and the camper. The families' sensitivity to these events can be helpful in the understanding of the former or new camper's behavior at camp.

• Mail, packages, trunks and duffel bag preparation, water treatment, camp supplies, sanitation practices, and the health center's inventory for treatment are among specific areas of concern to campers, parents and staff.

• Use of cell phones, telephones, video presentations and other types of technology must be reviewed as they can directly affect the camp community.

• Camp inspection criteria by the ACA, local, state and even federal authorities who will legislate new standards of compliance

• Visiting by parents, taking their campers out of camp, promotional visits, trips and travel opportunities by bus must be reviewed

• Ecological factors and sources of pollution must be considered.

• Before coming to camp a professional review of staff and other employees' history by an official background check must be enforced.

• Staff relating "stories" to campers about 9/11 may be quite inappropriate under the present set of circumstances in our society.

Because of residual vulnerability and sensitivity to the tragedy of 9/11 and subsequent events of terrorism and bio-terrorism, campers and staff may have been referred for treatment because of PTSD, depression or other related anxiety disorders diagnosed before camp.

Mental health issues can be brought to camp that can certainly effect the community. Parent's communication of these problems to the camp director is essential.

In some cases, referral for confidential treatment of the camper, in conjunction with permission and support of the parents, can be made in order to physically and emotionally enhance their campers' summer experience.

References:

DeWolfe, D. (2001). Mental Health Response to Mass Violence and Terrorism: A Training Manual for Mental Health Workers and Human Service Workers.

Monaham, C. (1993). Children and Trauma: A Parent's Guide to Helping Children Heal. Lexington Books, New York, NY.

Pynoos, R & Nader, K. (1993). Issues in the treatment of posttraumatic stress in children and adolescents. In J.P. Wilson and B. Rapheal (Eds.), International Handbook of Traumatic Stress Syndromes (pp. 535-549). New York: Plenum.

Charles B. Rotman is Professor of Psychology, Emeritus, at Babson College in Wellesley, Mass., is the author of "Camp is Business, Customer Satisfaction" and "Continuous Quality Improvement (CQI) in Camp Management" (1998. Babson College Press), and is president of CBR Associates Inc., a mental health consulting service for camps. For questions, Rotman can be reached at (508) 651-1132 or chir7@aol.com.

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