The camping gear is in a haphazard pile by the front door when my husband starts into his routine. He points repeatedly at his own nearly bald head and says to our son, “You do know where most of these scars have come from? —That’s right! — Scout Camp!” …he continues, “For some reason, when you put a group of 11 to 13 year-old boys next to rocks and sticks they all start acting Neanderthal. Eventually one of you ends up in the hospital getting stitches.” After a dramatic pause for effect, “So, what are you going to do when your friends start throwing rocks?” Our son answers sheepishly, “Not throw rocks.” “That’s right! And walk away”. “Now what are you going to do when your friends start swinging sticks?” The answer comes, “Not swing sticks Dad.” “That’s right, son. Now go to camp and have a great time!”
I smile to myself, knowing how many times my husband has given this same speech. It’s his way of telling our children you don’t have to follow the crowd. And just because everyone is doing it doesn’t make it smart, cool, or safe. Sometimes you don’t even realize when you are putting yourself in danger.
Sticks and stones are one thing, but today’s camp prep should also include what to do when someone starts telling off colour jokes and shares inappropriate images or videos on their phone. Many kids go to camp with a device tucked into their backpack. Some parents insist this is a security measure to ensure their kids are safe. But with cellular data it also means that pornography can be accessed anywhere and anytime camp leaders are out of sight.
Here’s a conversation one mom had with her son before sending him off to camp with his middle school class.
Not only did she prepare him for camp by teaching him how to respond if someone tries to do something inappropriate, but through their conversation she was able to learn that her son had already been shown pornography in the school yard. By carefully talking through the experience she helped him let go of the fear and anxiety he had been holding on to for some time.
Tonight my son is preparing and packing to go away on a three day two-night outdoor education program with his class at school. He is very excited!
Just before he went off to bed I felt prompted to talk with him about the possibility of inappropriate pictures or jokes his classmates might attempt to share with him. I am so glad I did. It was a great conversation. It went something like this:
Me: How are you feeling about your trip? Are you super excited? (I can see him beaming in anticipation, so it’s pretty much a rhetorical question)
Me: That’s awesome. You are going to have a great time. You will do some really cool things while you are there. Did you know I went to this type of Camp too when I was your age? I loved it.
Son: You had this camp way back then?
Me: It was similar …. and HEY! I’M NOT THAT old.
Me: Before you go I want you to remember some of the things we have been talking about lately —like how important our bodies are and what kinds of values are important to you.
Me: Well I was thinking, what would you do if you ever felt uncomfortable about something someone did while you were away at camp?
Son: I should tell an adult or a teacher?
Me: OK, but sometimes things happen and you might not think to tell a teacher you might just feel uncomfortable and keep it to yourself.
Son: (Looks at me confused —what the heck are you trying to say mom?)
Me: Well, for example, we talked about bad pictures a while back. Has anyone ever shown you a bad picture before?
Son: (Squirms and goes a little pale) Yes
Me: (Stays calm) I am so sorry that happened. You may tell me the details if that would help you to feel better about it. When did it happen? Was it this year?
Son: No, it was last year in the school yard. Some boys were telling a joke about “them nuts” and then one boy thought it would be a good idea to look it up on his phone. He showed us all a picture of a squirrel with … you know …
Me: (very calmly) you mean his penis?
Son: Yes (looking pale again).
Me: Was it a man’s penis or a squirrel’s penis?
Son: Well kind of both.
Me: I am sorry that you had to see that. That isn’t fair for someone to show you that, is it?
Son: No, it isn’t
Me: Seeing a picture like that is never a good thing, but seeing it when your body is changing like yours is now is even more unfair. Thank you so much for telling me. I love you very much. Can I give you a hug?
Me: OK, so like I said you are going to have a really fun time at camp. But let’s talk about what you would do if someone shows you a bad picture. It shouldn’t happen but I want you to be prepared just in case.
Son: OK (the big smile has returned).
Me: You are right, you definitely need to quietly go and to tell one of your teachers. That is very important because having someone make you feel uncomfortable isn’t fair and I think there are a lot of your friends who would feel uncomfortable too. What else would you do?
Son: I should walk away.
Me: You are right. You can just go find another friend and hang out with him. And if the person showing the bad picture asks why just say you are not interested. You know I remember being your age and going to camp and sitting with a bunch of girls who started telling dirty jokes. I didn’t like the way those jokes made feel. It’s better just to walk away.
Me: Alright, thanks for talking to me. You are going to have a great time.
At ParentsAware we love to read about stories like this. There are so many great takeaways we can learn from this experience:
- First, the parent followed through on an impression she had to talk with her son. Always act on your instincts.
- The conversation centered on the positive aspects of camp while teaching the child how to handle uncomfortable and inappropriate situations that could arise.
- By keeping her emotions in check this parent was able to hold on to her son’s confidence. He opened up when she asked simple questions and let him answer. She allowed him to come up with his own solutions to deal with similar situations in the future.
- Most importantly she told her son how much she loves him and trusts him.
What discussions have you had with your own children which help prepare them to deal with inappropriate media and conversations when they are away from home?
Photo credits: Richard BH; Guy Wann; Peter&Joyce Grace – Flikr
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