Facebook, Twitter, Instagram (and whatever comes next) aren’t the culprit. At least not by themselves. Like any situation, parents and guardians are responsible to monitor the playground their children are in: in this case the virtual world of social media. The interaction between counselor and camper doesn’t need to vary based on the medium. Parents need to be engaged in their kids’ activities and kids need to know that parents will be observing. If campers and counselors are friends on Facebook, that in of itself isn’t bad. We shouldn’t worry excessively over one connection versus another without reason. The relationship and bond forged between camper and counselor is unique and important – platforms like Facebook are new meeting grounds and we have to learn how to live with them, adapt them to our rules, and monitor them.
Some camper-counselor bunk relationships are important and influential. The camper-counselor bond is important and can be akin to a big brother or a mentor when one doesn’t exist for the camper. Personally, I’m proud of the decades-long interaction which has grown between campers of mine and me, augmented by the use of technology including Facebook.
As a counselor I had some bunks, and was a camper in some bunks, that were legendary. Why should a connection like that be forced to end simply because of the fear of Facebook? Both the camper and the counselor choosing to connect through social media should know and accept that their interactions may, and will be, monitored by responsible adults. If a parent reads or sees postings that give cause for alarm or suspicion (inappropriate material, suggestive pictures, language) then it should be cause to react. As a parent you will know when the relationship is inappropriate. But to forbid it simply because “bad stuff happens in Facebook” is just naive. It’s akin to worrying about all the bad men on the sex offender registry but ignoring the fact that 90% of abuse is caused by someone the child knows – the fear is displaced. Rather than run from it, embrace the technology and take ownership of it.
It’s also possible that having campers “following” them will cause counselors to behave better online as well knowing that kids are watching. Imagine if the fact that a counselor has camper friends results in the counselor not posting pictures of her drunken spring break theatrics or profanity ladened posts about his friends?
So when should the Facebook/Instagram/Twitter relationship be pulled? If either the counselor or camper starts to demand too much; if one side, especially the counselor, begins to act inappropriate or suggest age inappropriate activities and relationships; if one starts to act as a jealous or envious girl/boyfriend. You will know it when you see it. And when you see it, you need to do something about it. That’s when parents should be notifying camp directors, peers should be telling each other it’s not appropriate and ultimately when directors make the tough decision to not rehire because that staffer just doesn’t have good judgment.
We use a good rule of thumb in our work at Baltimore Child Abuse Center: if the other adult likes your kid more than you like your own kid, that could be cause for alarm. Embrace the new technologies that exist and recognize your campers want to use social media to keep camp going year round. By participating and monitoring the conversation, you become a part of the experience.
Concerned how kids and technology interact? Want to know more about how to talk with your kids and family about being safe, visit our safety pages at www.baltimorechildabusecenter.org/prevent_abuse to learn more.
Adam Rosenberg is the Executive Director at the Baltimore Child Abuse Center.