Last week, I posted a question on Chairman Mom about summer camps and bullying. I wanted to write something more thoughtful about our recent harrowing experience here as well, as several of you have asked me for more details.
Working moms—especially single working moms who live away from family—absolutely rely on summer camps. And we fork over thousands and thousands of dollars to make sure our kids have a fun, stimulating, and safe summer. In my case, I spent one-quarter of my kids private school tuition on camps in San Francisco this summer. It took half of the year to put the money aside.
But I’d happily deal with the financial repercussions if my kids were at least safe, if the camps at least held to their own stated “zero tolerance” for bullying.
I have spent a full week dealing with the fallout of three days of bullying my kids received at Camp Galileo two weeks ago. They were bullied by the same much older child for three of the five days they were at camp. They bullying included physical violence, threats of more physical violence, calling my kids “ugly” and gender-based bullying against Eli who is gender fluid. Each of these counts violates Camp Galileo’s stated policy against bullying which it claims is “zero tolerance.” What’s more: The camp director told me it had been a problem with all of the older kids bullying the younger kids, beyond just Eli and Evie for the entire week.
There’s more on the thread, but the TL;DR version is this: My kids complained to their counselors for two days and nothing was done. They told me and I spoke with the camp’s director who told me explicitly she doesn’t run her campus with a zero tolerance policy but she would keep the older kid away from my kids on the final day. (She didn’t. They were bullied again on Friday.) I called Galileo’s headquarters, which said they would call the director as well. That didn’t do any good either. On the last day of camp, Eli found and complained to the bully’s counselor hoping that might do some good. It didn’t. My kids stayed inside during after care to get through the rest of the day as best as they could, clear that no adult would help them.
In the end, I was told that there is no clear process for handling bullying when a child reports it to an adult at Camp Galileo. It’s handled on a “Case by case basis.” (My professor dad pointed out the obvious irony….That Galileo himself was bullied for his beliefs in his lifetime…what a thing for this camp to allow!)
That “case by case basis” justification for dealing with bullying is entrenched in the idea that different there are different kinds of bullying and not all of them should be taken seriously. Isn’t there something wrong with that point of view? Don’t all kids have the right to be treated with respect, to be kept safe, to not be called names or pushed? That if they feel bullied, they are bullied.
I couldn’t help but see some similarities with the #metoo movement, what pervades in a culture where women aren’t believed. Where women learn that reporting abuse simply won’t do any good. That was the message that Camp Galileo sent my kids last week: That adults paid thousands of dollars to keep you safe…simply won’t. Hide inside during aftercare instead while the bullies get the playground.
In a week of dealing with this, I’ve heard a lot of “it happens” and “kids will be kids.” And we wonder where “boys will be boys” comes from. At least my kids saw a full week of their mom taking this very seriously, even if the camp wouldn’t.
Needless to say, we won’t be returning. Still, I am unsettled thinking about what’s going on there this week and every other week this summer given the unsatisfying reaction from the organization. The thread on Chairman Mom is about how to better vet camps for these kinds of problems in advance if policies like “zero tolerance” ultimately mean nothing. I’d love any wisdom or insight from other mama bears who’ve fought this battle.
Meantime, our questions of the day:
– Sarah Lacy