Is Your Child’s Camp Enforcing its Own Zero Tolerance Policies?

Jul 8, 2024

Youth Law Attorney Alex Schwartz Advises Parents Who Suspect Homesickness May Mask the Effects of Bullying—Or Worse

SOUTHPORT, Conn.—June 7, 2024—For many parents, the words “summer camp” produce some of their very best memories—the beginnings of lifelong friendships, the thrill of self-discovery, and the freedom to relax outdoors.

For that reason, these parents are eager for their children to experience the same glow. They entrust their children’s health and happiness to camp leaders, with tremendous faith that they will enforce the rules of conduct to keep everyone safe. Most of the time, they do. But what actions should parents take when they suspect other children are crossing the line and putting their own kids at emotional and physical risk?

There’s such delicate choreography at play here. Whether at day camp or overnight camp, many children experience initial homesickness, only to have a meltdown saying goodbye to their new friends on the last day. If their children are initially unhappy, parents may feel they’ll benefit more from coping than withdrawing. But it’s always helpful to be aware that the angst children are experiencing could have a more insidious cause, stemming from camps’ “naivete” and/or lack of enforcement of their own zero-tolerance policy for bullying, drinking, drug use or sexual abuse/assault.

What can parents do to protect every child from the serious consequences of these actions? Following are a few guidelines:

  • Send your children to camp with a healthy awareness of camps’ published rules and policies—whether they are campers, counselors in training (CITs) or junior counselors. Reinforce that they should be good to themselves and others, and that the same policies that apply at school will likely apply at camp too.
  • If you sense that your child’s unhappiness might be above and beyond normal adjustment issues, trust your gut. Though some children will mask whatever is happening, others will be more forthcoming. If it appears your child is the victim of someone else’s ongoing misbehavior, ask the camp what they’ve done to investigate and remediate it. What protections do they have in place? In a “he said/she said” situation, suggest moving one of the campers to a different bunk and see what happens then. Still, keep tabs on your child—insisting on regular or daily phone communications from overnight camp, for example, just in case. You’ll be walking a fine line here, and ultimately you’ll have to rely on your knowledge of your own child. If no rules have been breached, it could be more destructive for you to withdraw your camper than to work with the camp so they can remain and enjoy the experience.
  • If your child is the victim of serious and even potentially criminal behaviors, consider holding the camp legally accountable. Camp is a privilege, rather than a requirement like school. For a child to return scarred is evidence of a serious breach of trust.

About Alex Schwartz, Attorney at Law

Attorney Alexander (Alex) Schwartz has over 40 years’ experience as a trial lawyer in state and federal courts throughout Connecticut and Greater New York. He has helped countless minors and their families get through difficult situations with compassion and patience. In addition to youth law, Alex’s practice areas include personal injury, divorce, state and federal criminal defense, and commercial litigation in state and federal courts.