Training Summer Camp Leaders to notice and confront problems
This morning began moving one step back. As I had been frontloading my expectations each morning at breakfast throughout the week, I thought that perhaps it was not necessary to do so again this morning. I figured they had it all down. I was wrong.
During the breakfast announcements each morning, I had let them know, through a funny skit or other creative means, that they were to line up in their cabin groups as soon as they heard the bell ring and to silently await my instructions while listening to our song of the day. We had so much to cover and I needed the whole hour to get through it all and certainly did not want them to be late for their 1st program session of the morning.
It was a lovely day, sunny and warm. People had gathered in the courtyard and were sitting on benches, chatting on the deck and generally milling around. And when the bell rang, no one moved. No one. I rang the bell a second time and still very few made their way into their cabin line ups. One of the directors had to come out of her office and help me hussle people along.
I chose to wait until we were inside before addressing the issue. As I was going over my disappointment in the behaviour in my head, I realized that, although I had given them my expectations on several mornings, I had never told them why. This was my fault. Over my years of camp directing, I had seen a change in staff and campers. Teens today need an explanation for expectations and do not necessarily accept them simply because they are told to. It is not enough for them to be informed of them; they need to understand the reasons behind them. I had missed this. So...I explained to them what had occurred outside and how that did not follow the expectations set out. I let them know it was not respectful of my time or theirs and asked that it was something that did not happen again. I was a bit worried I had lost them for the morning at this point as I had called them out on their actions but, as we did not dwell on what happened but got right into the activities, the campers were willing to come along for the ride. And I never saw this lack of respect at anytime during the rest of the camp session.
We began in new cabin groupings. I had the counselors divide the teens into pairs and stand back to back. I explained they were going to take turns trying to outsmart one another. They would take turns changing something about their physical appearance (ex. putting their hair into a ponytail, taking off their earrings, moving a bracelet or watch to their other arm). On my signal, they both turned around to face one another. The other person had time to guess what their partner changed. We played it a few times to get them comfortable with someone new and continue to build community and also to introduce the idea of needing to pay attention to details and not be fooled into accepting everything at face value.
Our next activity worked exceedingly well because of the generosity of the camp directors and the willingness of staff members to get dressed up and play along. We played a game of “Real or No Real” complete with models carrying briefcases and “Mowie Handel” hosting. Prior to this session, I had made up some construction paper briefcases and written inside prizes the entire camp could win. I sat down with the directors earlier in the week and got their permission for the prizes offered. The staff members who dressed up as models for me did an outstanding job. They entered the room on “Mowie’s” invitation and stood on benches and tables they had set up to resemble the risers the models stand on in the tv show. A representative from each cabin had the opportunity to choose a briefcase, answer a question and, if answered correctly, win for the entire camp. Some of the prizes included: a special dessert for dinner, a musical performance by certain staff members at campfire, the opportunity to dress their counselors up for a meal, marshmallows to roast at campfire, and a 15 minute extra sleep-in.
I had prepared true of false questions ahead of time and campers needed to guess correctly in order to win the prize. I had googled facts from Guinness World Book of Records as well as celebrity gossip and science articles and come up with statements that seemed ridiculous. Some were true and the object of the game was to get them to really think things through before accepting them as reality.
As we continued to play, the teens got more and more into the game, and their enthusiasm was contagious. They were excited by the prizes especially because everyone was going to benefit. Even though the clocks are set back at Teen Week to allow an extra hour of sleep anyway, the campers were most excited by the 15 minutes more sleep and chose this as their top prize! (Because of their great enthusiasm and involvement in the rest of the morning’s exercises, I wound up giving them several of their other top choices as well at the end of the session. They absolutely deserved them!)
I asked if they were then ready for some serious grown-up discussion. They felt they were and their counsellors heartily agreed. I explained that, as children of this planet, we have a responsibility to be able to discern real from not real. We need to be able to stop and ask really good questions so that we are living as authentically as possible. We talked about the definition of discernment and what it means to be authentic.
I had them circle up in their individual cabin groups and showed them ads in a powerpoint presentation. The photos included fashion models, weight loss products and other advertisements, music video stills, and pictures from news stories. I asked them to share in small group discussion about the kinds of questions they should be asking themselves when presented with these images. Once finished, we had a large group discussion. I asked them to share an insightful answer they had heard from someone else in their group. This way of debriefing showed their fellow campers that they were listening and also that they respected what they had to say. We discussed ads with promises too good to be true, reality shows that promote conflict, and images to which we have become de-sensitized. We talked about what is being marketed to them and how. The teens were extremely invested in this process and asked intelligent and thoughtful questions. I was most impressed with their insights.
We ended off this discussion with a great video from Ellen DeGeneres. It was a short clip in which Ellen shows us, as only Ellen can, that we need to ask really intelligent questions when confronted with new products. I’ve included it here for your enjoyment:
As we neared the end of this morning’s session, we talked about another great question to ask ourselves: What can I control? With the help of some staff members who acted out the scenarios, we shared events that can happen to teens and discussed what they could control in any given situation. The campers certainly had a lot to say. We focused on pulling out what is truly important in the scenarios and what is just drama.
Because the teens were so invested in the last 2 activities, we ran out of time to do some sharing in concentric circles. I had prepared some questions they could ask their ever-changing partners and practice being authentic and genuine with their answers. In the words of Margaret Wheatley, I had wanted them to “be brave enough to start a conversation that matters.” Although we ran out of time to do this exercise, it was worth sacrificing for the amazing discussions that we had shared this morning.
We all learned a lot that day. The incident which began the morning allowed us to get on the same page and impressed upon them that they have responsibilities if they wish to become people willing to make a difference. They learned the importance of asking intelligent questions and what consequences can arise if they miss those opportunities.
I re-learned the importance of explanations for expectations and reinforced for myself the value of treating others with respect even when sharing my disappointment in their behaviour. I also was reminded of a few other valuable lessons: creating activities which offer teens opportunities to gain something for themselves really catches and holds their interest and expecting mature answers from them and telling them we feel they are capable, encourages them and allows them an opportunity to live up to those expectations.
Without question, this was our most exciting session of the week. The teens really bought into the discussions and were open and honest with their answers. They astounded me with their mature insight and willingness to share their views. I think we reached a new plateau in our S.T.A.N.D. relationship that day and I am forever grateful for all that we took in.