September 26, 2013

Why we don’t let campers sneak out at night

I’ve had a few parents calling me in the past week about campers sneaking out of their cabins at night at other camps. Apparently it’s the cool thing to do at some camps. Which makes me sad.

I know what kids do when they sneak out to visit the opposite sex in the middle of the night – and it’s not debating world politics. There’s a fair bit of oral sex going on in that situation – for kids as young as 12 and 13. I find this horribly sad because kids aren’t ready for that, and in a situation where it’s common, there is enormous peer pressure to do it as a badge of coolness. I don’t agree with the premature sexualization of kids that occurs in our culture, and we don’t do that at Camp Arowhon.

Actively preventing campers from sneaking out at night is part of what we do – We use regular night patrols (by senior people) and severe consequences to get kids to not sneak out. But I think that, as important as the rules and our commitment to their enforcement is the culture that we consciously create.

When girls (and female staff) come to dinner every night wearing makeup and sexy clothes and with their hair straightened, there’s powerful messaging – to everyone at camp – that girls are here to get the boys’ sexual attention. This puts sex on the agenda front row centre, and sneaking out is the next logical step.

At Arowhon we have a very simple rule about that: No primping. That means no female (including staff) is allowed to wear makeup or provocative clothing or to straighten their hair. If a girl comes to dinner wearing mascara and with cleavage showing, we send her back to her cabin to wash her face and put on a shirt. Female staff who want to primp for day off aren’t allowed to do so and then parade around camp. They primp and they leave camp right away. Because we don’t want to role modeling primping, it wouldn’t work for the campers to see their staff with makeup on etc.

It was almost 15 years ago that we both actively stopped the sneaking out, and made the no-primping rule. And how that changed our camp! It almost seemed that the teens at camp let out a collective sigh of relief! They still get interested in each other, but in a much less intense way, and with no pressure to act on it in ways they’re not ready for yet. The girls and boys make better friends with each other now.

Since they stopped primping, our Senior Girls have learned to be kids again. They don silly costumes, they play crazy games, they support each other through thick and thin. They just seem more….  relaxed.

Camp is not for makeup and hair straightening

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