Leadership By Example

Dr. Christopher Thurber is a board-certified clinical psychologist, father and author of The Summer Camp Handbook, now available online for free at SummerCampHandbook.com. He is the co-creator of ExpertOnlineTraining.com, a set of Internet-based video training modules for camp counselors, nurses and doctors. He can be reached via e-mail at chris@campspirit.com

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Sample Letter

Three reasons to lead by example on Facebook and other Web sites:

1. Campers

2. Parents

3. Future employers

Please take a minute to reflect on the wonderful example we set for campers every summer. Think about all the care that staff members put into preserving the purity of our camp’s spirit. Members don’t swear in front of campers; camp policy forbids alcohol or other drugs in camp; members even hide their cell phones so that campers’ thoughts don’t turn to returning home. We go to all this trouble because we believe that our example and our image should be wholesome. As your director, I feel that we need to work harder to extend that effort across all seasons and into cyberspace.

Posting photos or other content that depicts drinking, smoking or behaviors not suited for campers’ eyes sends a confusing and upsetting message to them and their parents. This winter, campers who thought they knew their counselors and cabin leaders, and understood what camp stands for, have written to me, saddened to have discovered something different.

Let’s face it. Curious campers–the same ones who worship you during the summer–will Google your name and search for you on Facebook. They’re not stalking you. They really care about you, and they want to extend their connection. It shatters their image of you, and of camp, to see you engaged in unhealthy, risky or adult-only behaviors. I’m asking all camp staff members–past, present and future–to take three simple steps toward better online leadership-by-example:

1. Please remove inappropriate photos or other content from your Facebook page, including content that others have posted. Ask your friends to remove inappropriate content in which you are tagged.

2. Post only photos or other content that you would be proud to have a camper or his or her parents see. Staff members do many interesting and inspiring things in the off-season. Share those adventures in appropriate ways online.

3. If you do post adult content, create friend groups in your profile. Then, alter the privacy settings for your different groups so that access to adult content is restricted to adult friends who know you well. Be sure that casual browsers who find you online do not have access to that content.

As you know, I receive a great deal of wonderful praise from parents and campers about the fantastic work you do. Naturally, it pains me to receive even a handful of e-mails and letters from distressed campers and parents who have been exposed to a different side of camp and its staff. Thank you for making a more complete, year-round effort to set a wholesome example, both online and in-person.

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