It’s that time of year when we can smell summer in the air, and working parents thoughts turn to summer arrangements for their kids. Summer camps are a popular choice and can span the range from totally unstructured programs offered at local parks to seriously academic programs offered by schools and colleges. Your choice must be based on your child’s interest, the cost and convenience, and the knowledge that the program is operated in a way that ensures your child’s wellbeing. Limited adult supervision coupled with the joy of not being in school has been known to lead kids to act out in many ways– including exploring their sexuality — at summer camp.
In many states, short-term summer camps are not subject to the same stringent licensing requirements as childcare centers, and some faith-based programs may be exempt from public regulation altogether, so it becomes even more important for you to do your homework before entrusting your child to a specific camp environment. To make sure your child will be sexually safe and healthy all day (and night) at camp, start with a typical day and consider all activities that your child will involve your child. Here’s some areas to consider:
The bus: If your children will be picked up by a bus or van, will there be someone other than the driver to provide supervision? Excited kids can become unruly and distract a driver. Often, an older child is assigned to lead songs and keep order on a camp-bound bus. This may be sufficient if a staff member is not available, but if the bus is carrying multiple teens, the supervising child may be unable to resist peer pressure and may join the commotion. And, huddled groups of kids or high-backed seats can hide aggressive grabbing and all kinds of showing off !
Sports and swimming: If the camp day includes swimming, ask camp administrators if the staff has been prepared to deal with children who get embarrassed changing clothes in front of others, and be sure you’re comfortable with the reply. If there is a focus on sports, are all children encouraged to participate? Is competition kept at a healthy level?
Moving around camp grounds: You should find out if your child will be supervised as she moves through the camp grounds and facilities. If a child needs to use a rest room will an adult accompany her? If no, is there a policy in place to carefully monitor the amount of time a child is gone? In addition, if the camp takes your child on field trips, does the camp take adequate measures to ensure the safety of your child? Tight supervision is a must for field trips; whether walking to a neighborhood park or traveling to a local tourist destination, counselors should assign buddies and perform constant head counts to make sure all children are safe and accounted for.
Staff: Camp administrators should check the background and references for all people who have access to children. This includes maintenance and food services staff as well as the counselors, teachers, or volunteers working directly with the kids. It is common for summer camps to employ adolescents; these young people should participate in pre-service training to learn the rules, values, and standards of the camp, and be assigned an experienced supervisor. Adolescent brains are still developing and lapses in judgment are expected. In fact, I’ve seen instances of young camp staff participating in bullying a targeted child!
Check with the camp director to see if safety and suypervision measures are in place before you entrust your child to their care. Likewise, you can visit the camp or talk to other parents who have sent their child in prior years to get a feel for the workings and safety of the camp environment.
Parents can find more information and a checklist to use in choosing a summer camp in my book The Sex Wise Parent. For a copy of the checklist, E-mail DrRosenzweig@SexWiseParent.com.
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