Over the summer I worked as a camp counselor at Little Harbor Boathouse, a small kayak and SUP rental business on the North Shore. Each week I had between 5 to 25 kids ranging from the age of 8 to 14. From week 1 my fellow counselors and I began to notice some interesting social phenomenons occurring that were related to a number of factors including: the number of kids in the group, whether or not they had pre-existing friends in the group, their level of comfort at the boathouse and the parents involvement to name a few.

Each week, my curiosity about the factors that shape these kids’ behaviors renewed itself. (I think my fellow counselors can attest to the fact that they grew tired of how often I’d say, “but really, do you think it’s the parenting style or is it really just him??” Of course, human behavior can’t be linked solely to genetics, or solely to influences at home but I am curious as to what degree each factor plays its role and how these factors are acting differently on each kid. We had a few kids in particular who, frankly, were mean. They bullied other kids in the camp, often involving name-calling, insulting, and provoking. When handling certain kids, I often wondered what had led them to this behavior and was it something innate in their characters or was this behavior truly specific to the environment and specific situation of summer camp at Little Harbor Boathouse? In class, we talked about the power of the situation and the fundamental attribution error, and I was reminded of my summer and how quickly I jumped to label kids in my mind as “awesome” or “uncooperative.” Perhaps if I had interacted with them in a different setting, or different role, my experience of each kid would have been different.

I noticed that when kids felt more comfortable in their surroundings (aka they might have attended prior sessions of camp), some seemed to gain a sense of entitlement and therefore acted out more so than brand-new kids on day one. But this wasn’t universal. Some kids simply became more talkative and outgoing as the days went on. It was evident that the different parenting styles at home played a role, too. The number of kids we had on any given week also had an apparent impact on the kids behavior. I think “diffusion of responsibility” is applicable here, even without an emergency scenario. The more kids, the less responsible and accountable  they felt for their actions. The “group mentality” took over, and I watched how they would base their behaviors off of what others had deemed amusing.

I noticed how quickly and easily I would categorize my kids, labelling the “good” ones and the “bad” ones. How much of my slight insight into these kids’ lives was really indicative of their characters and how much was purely situational?

One Response to “A Camp Counselor’s Amateur Behavioral Study”

Nice discussion of your camp experience Tobey! I like how you weaved in several different social psych concepts to help understand your own thoughts as well as others’ actions at the camp. Do you think the way you come to conclusions about the kids or the way you act would be different if you went back now, knowing what you know from this social psych class?

Profile photo of rrasmu03
October 28th, 2016

You must be logged in to post a comment.