Bullying at Camp: One Summer Camp’s Recipe for a Bully-Free Zone

Campers smiling and posing for a photo

When I started Odyssey Teen Camp 20 years ago, I wanted it to be a place free of bullying because I knew the damage bullies could do firsthand. Unsurprisingly, teenagers thrive in an environment where they feel safe enough to try new things without worrying about success, failure, or humiliation. I know from my own experiences as a teenager that bullying can cause trauma that can last a long time.

Shutting down parts of ourselves

I grew up on Long Island in a nice neighborhood, but there was a gang of kids who called themselves the 1%, and they were terrifying to me. They only messed with me once, but I feared them hurting me throughout middle and high school. I became so afraid of these kids that I remember shutting down big parts of myself, and I gave away whatever power or confidence I may have had as a thirteen-year-old boy.

I’m sure many of us have felt bullied, and some have probably bullied others. They say people become bullies because they were bullied themselves, and that may be true. However, it’s still hard to sympathize with someone who is deliberately hurting someone and causing damage for no other reason than to try to make themselves feel better at another’s expense.

I know many of our campers have been easy targets for bullies. Statistics show that teens who identify as LGBTQ+ are four times more likely to seriously consider suicide than other teens. I am sure that bullying has played a part in much of our teens’ mental anguish. That’s why being away from home in a supportive community can be a life-affirming and life-changing experience for LGBTQ+ teens.

Video thumbnail - Why OTC is an LGTBQ+ Friendly Summer Camp

The OTC bully-free recipe

I’m not going to say that no one at Odyssey Teen Camp has ever been bullied or treated unkindly, but I believe we create a kinder, safer, and more supportive environment than most places.

We take a non-competitive approach to a whole new level. We play some games at camp, but our activities are rarely about winning. When I look at all the awards other camps regularly hand out, I wonder if they realize that for every kid who “wins,” there is a whole group of others who feel like losers.

Another thing that happens at OTC is that we celebrate our “weirdness.” Many of the quirks, foibles, and human frailties we all live with and teenagers are humiliated for are the very same things they are celebrated for at camp.

How does OTC do such a good job of creating a community where people’s vulnerabilities and unique qualities are celebrated?

It starts with our staff, who are often plenty unique and weird but also proud and accepting of their weirdness. Our staff are fantastic role models for not hiding or pretending to be something or someone they are not.

Two camp counselors clowning around and being themselves.

Our counselors being themselves.

Camp can show teens that all of the things they feel insecure about and feel like they have to hide are things that make them the wonderful, unique beings that they are. More than any other time in their lives, teenagers need to be able to develop deep, healthy, and trusting relationships with people their age and with people who are a little older.

That is the gift that a summer camp can often provide. Once teenagers learn that other people not only accept them but also love and respect them, I think they are on their way to being able to protect themselves better and move toward being “bully-proof.”

Adam Simon, Odyssey Teen Camp Director

Adam Simon

I'm Adam Simon. I started teen camp eighteen years ago with the vision of creating a space where teenagers would know they are safe from bullying or negative judgments and would feel free to show who they really are and to become their best selves. Let's connect, discuss, and engage...
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Find Out About Odyssey Teen Camp

A Non-Profit Overnight Summer Camp For Teens Ages 13-18
Located in the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts.