Christopher Thurber, PhD, is a boardcertified clinical psychologist who enjoys creating and delivering original content to professional educators and youth leaders worldwide. He co-founded ExpertOnlineTraining.com, co-wrote The Summer Camp Handbook, and crafted the ACA's homesickness prevention DVD for new camper families. Contact him through his website, CampSpirit.com.
"How would I know," asked one high school student, "if I'm with someone, like on a date, and we're hooking up, consensually, and then the person I'm with doesn't want to go any further?"
The groans from his classmates echoed in the auditorium and blithely suggested that he should have known the answer. And yet, he had asked the question sincerely, courageously. What appeared to some teens to be common decency, common courtesy, or even common sense was not just uncommon, it was unclear.
Think, for a minute, about the adults to whom you were most strongly attached as a child. Can you see their faces and remember how they treated you? Perhaps you see parents, teachers, coaches, clergy, or youth leaders, such as camp staff members. Resilient adults can all think of at least one warm, reliable person who served as a defining caregiver and mentor. Their warmth and reliability are what created that resilience, that ability to bounce back from adversity. They brought us joy and boosted our confidence.
Hiring young adults to care for other people’s children seems like folly, from a neurodevelopmental perspective. Nobody’s brain is fully developed, many activities are dangerous, the weather can be violent, kids’ behavior is unpredictable, and all staff could use more training than directors have time to give. Pepper that risk and lack of preparation with a few mental health problems, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. Fortunately, the right prevention, training, and support can help you thwart catastrophe and create a formative experience for your young participants.
Nate's elbow pokes violently into Kellen's ribs. He then fakes a pass, pivots, and again throws his body into Kellen, hoping the staff referees won't notice. But they do, just as Kellen winces and pushes Nate back roughly, in what looks like a chest pass without a ball. "What's up with that?!" Kellen shouts. "You wanna go?!" taunts Nate. "Let's go! Bring it!" A whistle blows and the two refs are between the boys now, separating the tangle of arms and fists.
If someone told you that you had a "retrospective, unidirectional bias" and had contracted the "availability heuristic," you might think you need to visit a doctor right away. Actually, you'd be right. But you wouldn't need a medical doctor. You'd need a research psychologist — someone with expertise in statistics and child development. Someone who could explain to you that your bias and heuristic — although unhealthy — were common and easily removed. Once cured, you could see more nuances in your campers' behaviors.
Perhaps no question weighs more heavily on the minds of parents, teachers, and camp staff than "Will this child do what I ask?" Sadly, there is no magic formula for obedience. So, this question is perennial; its answer elusive. Sure, we try to manage children's behavior. A keyword search for books on parenting yields 23,096 titles. There is no shortage of advice. But as any parent will tell you, there is a chasm between child behavior theory and practice. As Bill Cosby said, "Parenting can be learned only by people who have no children."
My ears have yet not drunk a hundred words
Of thy tongue's uttering, yet I know the sound.
Juliet, from Romeo and Juliet
— by William Shakespeare
Children learn language not by rote, but by a seemingly effortless interaction between their sponge-like brains and their language-rich environments. This breathtaking process begins as rapidly as Juliet learned to recognize Romeo's voice.