Summer camp is an invaluable experience which instills values of community and belongingness in children. A camp’s natural setting gives youngsters the opportunity to work with each other, take responsibility and make choices, develop imaginative skills, become self-reliant and independent, and gain confidence. All these attributes are necessary to make them resilient and improve their life skills and pro-social behaviors. Not surprisingly, parents of millions of American children eagerly look forward to sending their kids to summer camp every year.
But summer camps have a dark side — prevalence of bullying, particularly among boys. Victims feel their sense of safety, belonging and self-worth being eroded – the very values camps are meant to inculcate. The physical and psychological trauma of bullying can be so great that some children leave camp halfway whereas others don’t go back the following year. The emotional impact of childhood bullying may sometimes last into adulthood.
Since August is observed as “Don’t Be a Bully Month,” it acts as a reminder to take bullying seriously and not dismiss it as typical boyhood behavior. It becomes the collective responsibility of parents and teachers to sensitize their children, especially boys, to the evils of such behavior and also make them aware of how not to be a bully. Counselors, on the other hand, need to protect children’s mental health at the camp and train the campers along with staff members on skills and strategies to avoid rude behavior.
Bullying gives sense of power and supremacy
Although the perpetrator may occasionally be a typical bully, several bullying situations involve greater complexity. Quite often, the victim unintentionally instigates or upsets other boys which result in the onset of such negative behavior. Victimized boys, especially first-time campers, tend to be less mature than other boys or display social awkwardness which prevents them from “fitting in.” Boys exhibiting bullying behavior usually have less patience and tolerance while dealing with a frustrating peer that often leads to resentment.
Bullying among boys can include physical abuse with the intent to hurt victims, intimidation or threat of physical injury, and verbal shaming or humiliation. Such situations can be extremely frightening and shameful for the victimized boy. Although such behavior has been banned at camps, many other forms of bullying are still prevalent.
Typical bullies mostly operate alone and are usually feared by other boys. A significant proportion of perpetrators may have themselves suffered physical or sexual abuse by other males during some stage in their lives. As a defense mechanism, such boys may develop a psychological condition termed as “identification with the aggressor.” Playing the aggressor makes boys feel powerful whereas being the victim is perceived as a weakness.
Preventing bullying among boys
Bullying can have a lasting impact on victims and result in a number of mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, psychosis and risk of suicide. Early interventions are critical to prevent such issues from escalating. Socially uncomfortable boys can look for companions who can help them overcome rejection and grow in life. Teachers and school counselors can also help victimized boys develop better personal management skills so that they don’t antagonize other boys to become victims of bullying.
Bullies need to be sensitized that physical or verbal abuse is unacceptable. Such boys should be helped to channelize their frustration and prevent their anger from consuming them. Other boys at camp should also be counseled to develop patience and tolerance which will help them control their anger during frustrating situations.
The problem of bullying should not be ignored. It is more damaging than many parents and authority figures may realize. White River Academy is one of the leading therapeutic residential schools that aims to assist teenage boys aged 12 to 17 years. Call our 24/7 helpline or chat online with our experts to know about one of the best boarding schools for troubled teens to help your teen recover.