Bullying Prevention This Summer

Maybe you were like me this week and watched in horror as several middle-school students harassed and bullied an adult bus monitor with taunts and hateful comments.

You might have also been like me and started asking the question: How did these kids get to this point with no regard for others’ feelings or respect for other human beings?

I could go on a long rant about the child-rearing skills of the students’ parents, but instead I will focus on how this happened and how we at summer camp can prevent behavior like this from happening at our camps.

The biggest barrier to children coming to camp is “trust”. Do the parents trust us to physically and emotionally take care of their children and protect them from harm?

Here are four steps to ensure this type of bullying does not happen at camp this summer.

Four Steps To Bullying Prevention:

1. Proper Ratios Of Adult To Children

I don’t know the ratio of bus monitor to children on that bus, but I imagine it was higher than 1:5 (what many summer resident camps practice) or even 1:12 (what many day camps practice).

Having one adult and a large number of children does not allow us the opportunity to protect those who are most vulnerable.

Unfortunately, in this case it was the adult who was singled out. An additional adult allows the ability to deal with discipline issues without jeopardizing the overall safety of the group. One additional adult on that bus could have prevented this from happening.

2. Engaged Supervision

I have taken this term from The Redwoods Group, a risk management company serving YMCAs and summer camps.

I don’t believe that this was the first day that these children acted out in this fashion. I believe the warning signs were there and that they had probably been testing the bus monitor before the day this was video was captured.

I instruct my staff to be fully engaged with their campers all day long to prevent bullying from getting to this point.

You can’t manage a group of children while sitting on the sidelines. Engaged supervision means that you are part participant, part referee, part parent, part counselor and part friend.

3. Lifeguarding On Land

We should be as vigilant in protecting our children on land as we are in protecting them around water. We would never allow our campers to be in the water without properly trained experts ensuring their safety, so why would we allow this to happen on land?

Our staff should be trained to see the warning signs, to be prepared to respond and to be quick to offer assistance when children are in distress.

4. Take It Seriously

Whoever said that “sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me” was obviously a bully.

Words hurt, and just because there is no physical bullying doesn’t mean it is not a serious problem.

What were the warning signs that these children on the bus ride gave before they acted out in this manner and videotaped the confrontation? We can’t allow the argument that “kids are just being kids”.

Summer camp is serious work, and as we deal with thousands of children and staff this summer our highest priority should be to provide a safe experience for all.

We as camp directors should be prepared and train our staff to prevent bullying, and if it occurs,  to deal with it quickly.

Dave Bell has directed day and resident camp programs for more than 15 years. Currently, he is the Executive Director of Camping Services for the YMCA of Greater Seattle. He is a former American Camp Association Southeast Section board member, a certified Y-USA Day Camp Director Trainer and a Y-USA partner YMCA camp consultant. Reach him via e-mail at dbell@seattleymca.org.