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In the Trenches: Clarifying the Rules in Your House
While boys and girls should be treated with equal fairness and should have the same privileges, responsibilities, opportunities and restraints, they are not anatomically or emotionally the same. Acting as if they are does a disservice to each gender. How stimulating or discomforting would it be for other children — boys or girls — to have prepubescent girls swimming topless? At what age does the policy change? What about girls who develop at different ages? For example, if a girl at age eleven has not developed breasts, should she be allowed to swim topless?
However, interesting as this question may be, it is not the one you asked me. You did not ask me about the merits of allowing younger girls to swim as their boy counterparts do. If I were to say that I think younger girls could swim topless, or that we routinely see two- and three-year olds swimming that way, so why not five- and six-year olds? — that is not the issue. However, it’s not my camp, it’s yours — and you’ve decided to stick to your policy. Given that, the question you asked is, "What do I say to these parents?"
What you simply say is — kids are well aware that different households have different rules or tolerances. Kids know that when you go visit a friend, you abide by the rules and tolerances of that household. If you don’t, you may be asked to leave and/or you may not be invited back. If you disagree with the values or rules in your friend’s house, then maybe your friend comes to your house instead. For example, in some households watching certain television shows or playing with certain interactive games are okay; while in others it is not. In some households there is a high level of supervision; while in others there is not. In some households there is a high tolerance for noise; in others, not.
Your camp is your "household." In it, you make and maintain rules for the good of everyone there. While you may agree with an individual parent’s opinion or perspective on a particular issue, you must maintain an environment that is comfortable for or fair to everyone. When children come to your "house," they are expected to abide by the policies and rules and procedures that you have established. If they disagree, they don’t have to come.
On the issue of allowing girls to swim topless, many parents allow girls to do so up to a certain age. Roughly speaking, somewhere around age three or four, society in general seems to expect that practice to change. Indeed, there are camps where children and even entire families can go and be nude — camps where such nudity is not considered sexual or provocative or over-stimulating. From what you say, your camp is not one of them.
If other camp professionals, especially female leaders of all-girls’ camps, have an opinion about allowing younger girls to swim topless, I would like to hear your opinions.
His parents were outraged that we would send him home and actually refused to come pick him up! They told us that they had checked in with other parents who all agreed that our consequence for their son was too harsh. What do you think?
To Directors: This summer, while visiting camps across the United States, I heard about many instances where gambling, specifically poker playing among adolescent boys, was not only prevalent, but in some cases presented a challenge. Given the popularity of poker and the high profile it is currently receiving, I would like to hear from you if poker playing among campers was prevalent at your camp to a greater degree than in past years, and whether any challenges or problems arose as a result, such as large sums of money being wagered or fights breaking out, etc. You may e-mail your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks in advance for sharing. I will write about poker playing at camp in a future "In the Trenches" column.
Bob Ditter is a licensed clinical social worker specializing in child, adolescent, and family therapy. He supervises content for Bunk1.com and can be reached via e-mail at BobDitter1@aol.com or by fax at 617-572-3373. "In the Trenches" is sponsored by American Income Life Insurance.
Originally published in the 2004 November/December issue of Camping Magazine.