Whatever Happened to Civility?

March 19, 2012

This week’s post is contributed by Deb Bialeschki, ACA’s director of research. Peg and Deb have a spirited habit of exchanging meaningful quotes, which sparked this post. Look for more guest contributors in the future, as Peg continues to share her latest thoughts and invite others to join the conversation.

Many people lament the rudeness, bad manners and behaviors, and lack of respect we see around us every day — and it’s not just in kids! We see it in our media “stars,” public officials, coaches, youth leaders — even our own neighbors and families! Many folks believe that bad manners can be attributed to our increasing use of technology, lax standards, and a general lack of respect. But it doesn’t have to be that way, especially in our youth programs! What better place to practice civility (by both staff and campers) than in our camp community?

Civility is more than just being courteous — it is about living respectfully. Some people would go so far as to suggest that civility is the glue that holds a community together. Civility is about compassion, respect, generosity, and kindness. It is about “doing the right thing” — even when there is no spotlight to highlight your good behavior. So what can a caring camp professional do? Here are four easy-to-practice “habits” for you to explore with your staff and young people!

  1. Make the practice of kindness, generosity, gratitude, and respect a HABIT! You’re never too young (or too old) to start — and the research supports that you will live longer, happier, and healthier if you do!
  2. In this time of “technologically-aided communication,” nurture your social relationships with more personal forms of communication. While we won’t give up our smart phones or internet connections, take a break from them occasionally (like at camp), sit with another staff member or some campers, and have a meaningful conversation without a screen or buttons. Seeing a real smile on a face is much better than the smiley face emoticon! 
  3. Seize “teachable moments” with your staff and campers! Remember, just because you like them doesn’t mean you have to like their bad behaviors. Child development experts have commented on how we have stopped teaching kids manners, respect, and empathy for others. In fact, several studies have reported that social skills are a more accurate predictor of future success than test scores. Focus on teaching good interpersonal skills and developing positive relationships, and be sure to share WHY these skills are important!
  4. Practice decency and civility every day in every way! Discuss with your staff and campers ways to model respect, caring, and good behavior toward ALL living things. Then design and post your own “Civil Camp Community” expectations.

The cultural shift around civility has to start somewhere — why not plant the seeds in our programs, even if it is one child or staff person at a time? Please share your thoughts and ideas or tips that you use at your camp to promote civility!

Tips and Resources


  • Good, T.L. & Nichols, S.L. (2001). School outcomes: Cognitive function, achievements, social skills, and values. International Encyclopedia of the Social and Behavioral Sciences. 13583-13589.
  • Agostin, T.M. & Bain, S.K. (1997). Predicting early school success with developmental and social skills screeners. Psychology in Schools, 34(3), 219-228.
  • Weeks, L. (March 14, 2012) Please read this story, thank you. NPR