Problem Behavior at Camp

Time and personnel limitations — in conjunction with the camper’s health, safety and security considerations — may eliminate any treatment possibility at camp.

To effect some constructive change in a four- or eight-week period at camp may be wishful thinking and inappropriate for all concerned.

Referral, if needed, to a local home community mental health resource, may be initially rejected and resented by parents, yet this may be the best alternative for the camper whose behavior may have underlying pathology which is in need of professional evaluation and treatment.


This most important ingredient for a successful camp season is invested in a competent staff. However, their unique position as camp employees during their later adolescent/young adult years can be problematic.

The transition from their college or graduate school “self” orientation to the camp community — where they have specific commitments and responsibilities for the health, safety and security of others — may be a challenge for them.

Young adults in a collegiate environment do not have to concern themselves with curfews, a structured 14- to 16-hour day (with some time off), rules, regulations, dress codes, being informally evaluated, lack of privacy, limited days off, and so on.

Camp is a close, emotionally-intense experience for all members in this self-contained community. Staff members’ freedom is realistically reduced by the conditions of employment.

Certain staff members may find it difficult to adjust or conform to the realistic and objective expectations of the camp administration.

Others test limits, acting out verbally or physically, and not favorably responding to constructive criticism by their supervisors. This is detrimental to the campers and their parents, peers and the camp’s structure.

What are the appropriate alternatives available to camp directors, given the three Ts — Tolerance, Treatment or Termination?

To tolerate a staff member whose behavior is actively or passively detrimental to the camp would be irresponsible. To treat a staff member by a competent senior staff member may be helpful, but the same realistic constraints must be considered (time, pressure and responsibility) — as previously discussed in reference to campers.

Terminating the staff member may be most appropriate, with the same home referral procedure suggested after consultation with the camp’s attorney.

If the terminated staff member is a minor the camp director has an obligation to notify his or her parents. In addition, if there is evidence, just as in the case of the camper of the possibility of underlying pathology, they may be in need of referral to professional mental health resources for evaluation and treatment. Parents must be informed. The liability of negligence by the staff member must also be introduced as the need of termination.

It is certainly difficult to differentiate between reasonable-acceptable and borderline-unacceptable behavior within the American culture in recent years.

Therefore, when suspect behavioral situations or events take place within the camp environment that are not compatible with the administration’s policies, philosophy or goals, a resolution of the problematic behavior must be determined after careful review of the alternatives have been presented.

Charles B. Rotman is Professor of Psychology, Emeritus, at Babson College in Wellesley, Mass., is the author of “Camp is Business, Customer Satisfaction” and “Continuous Quality Improvement (CQI) in Camp Management” (1998. Babson College Press), and is president of CBR Associates Inc., a mental health consulting service for camps. For questions, he can be reached at (508) 651-1132 or

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  1. Behavior Check
  2. Post-Camp Check-Up
  3. Preparing Parents
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  5. Preparing Campers — A Checklist

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