Experts say sleep camps can be an important development experience that helps build resilience. Before sending a child to camp, parents should talk to children about boundaries, secrets, and trust. Parents evaluating camps should talk to leadership about how they train for abuse and grooming.

Sleepaway camp has long been an integral part of American culture, a rite of passage marked by the separation of families and the mixing of peers, a postponement of fencing in favor of nature, and an experience that, for those lucky enough to Be present can mark an important chapter in a young person’s journey to independence.

But the prospect of sleepover camp can also be stressful for parents who weigh the benefits of such settings against potential risks, including abuse by an adult or another child.

sleeping camps

“It’s scary raising kids these days. I have a lot of empathy for a parent, myself, as well as a school counselor and therapist because so many recent news events have underscored that the places where we should feel safest are our children in the world.” don’t feel safe,” says Phyllis Fagell, author of “Middle School Matters: The 10 Key Skills Kids Need to Thrive in Middle School and Beyond — and How Parents Can Help.” “I understand the parental instinct to protect a child from all evil.”

Experts on parenting, abuse, and harassment say parents can ake their children less vulnerable ind ensure they choose camps committed to deterring perpetrators and addressing potential abuse.

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“ICamps must havepolicies and procedures in place regarding sexual harassment and abuse and be transparent about them,” said Rahel Bayar, former sex crimes prosecutor and founder and CEO of The Bayar Group. Struggling. “Effective and impactful training is about setting up camp as a difficult target for offenders. Posting a message that says, ‘You won’t get away with this behavior.'”

‘Not every camp is equal.’

Scholar Leslie Paris, author of “Children’s Nature: The Rise of the American Summer Camp,” says summer camps began in the late 1800s in response to urban industrial anxiety among educated white men, who felt their sons wanted outdoor work and adventure—Needed to grow into productive members of an elite class.

Over time, Paris says, the purpose and composition of the camps have diversified. The YMCA movement, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, religious camps, private camps for elite families, and community centers sent impoverished first-generation immigrant children to the base. Camps became a way to forge community and provide children with healthy and fun experiences.

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Safety was a concern in early summer camps, although it focused largely on infectious disease and health standards. When it came to abuse and predation, Paris said these concerns were largely wrapped up in homophobia.

Bayar says many camps today are more focused on abuse and are taking steps to prevent and mitigate damage. Still, the lack of national standards, a patchwork of state laws, and varying levels of involvement in the issue make some camps safer than others. Centers can be accredited through the American Camp Association, but a center does not need to be accredited to run.

“Not every camp is equal regarding how they handle abuse prevention,” Bayar said.

Bayar says she works with camps to help leadership and staff understand abuse, grooming, and mandatory reporting requirements. She teaches commands how to pick up the red flags of adult-to-child abuse and how to deal with RV abuse.

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How parents can make their children less vulnerable

Fagell, who sent all three of her children to a sleeping camp, says parents need to take risks in helping their children develop self-efficacy, independence, flexibility, social skills, and conflict resolution. She also notes that in the context of the pandemic, where children are struggling with mental health in general and social connection in particular, these types of experiences become even more valuable.

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Fagell says parents are not powerless to protect their children. Parents can reduce the chances of their child being targeted by having conversations about safe and unsafe touch, explaining the difference between healthy and unhealthy secrets, teaching children how to ask for help, and being persistent when they don’t get it the first time.

The most important thing a parent can do, Fagell says, is to create an environment in which their child can reveal when they or someone they care about has been harmed.

“We want to ensure they understand that they will never be punished for sharing,” she says. “They shouldn’t be at fault. It’s not their fault. They have to understand that they will be helped.’

Do your camp research.

Bayar says parents looking for a safe camp should speak with the owner or administrative director. She discourages parents from relying solely on recommendations from other parents.

“It asks, ‘What policies and procedures do you have? How do you train on sexual abuse care, on sexual harassment? How do you train your staff?'” she says. “And when you ask those questions to a camp administrator, you need to pay attention to whether they’re offensive or defensive. They should take the time to answer your questions and tell you what they do and how they’re constantly improving.”

Fagell says she would also like to know how the camp would communicate with a parent if there were an abuse, disciplinary issue, or social problem.

“Some camps are employing social workers because of the pandemic to deal with things like homesickness or social conflict,” she says. “Camps should have a conversation with kids about getting support if they need it for themselves or a friend.”

Fagell stresses that while parents can minimize a child’s risk of harm, they will never completely eradicate it. The best thing a parent can do is equip their child to deal with negative or traumatic experiences.

“It’s not our job as parents to guarantee that our child is never in danger,” she said. “Our job is to help them recover, get back on track, maintain their optimism, and see themselves as strong even when things inevitably go wrong.”

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