By Julia Siegel
“This is my favorite place in the whole wide world,” said Jessica*, age 8.
She was talking about Camp Liberty, a camp for kids with skin diseases ranging from hair loss to severe blistering disorders. Jessica was born with a large red patch that covered half of her face and suppressed even more of her personality. At school she was shy and withdrawn, tired of the countless questions and worn down from the constant teasing about her birthmark. But not at camp. Camp was a safe haven where everyone who looked at Jessica saw a beautiful girl with a talent for knock knock jokes and nail polish designs. Camp was a place where Jessica could truly be herself and realize her true potential. She was free.
As a counselor at Camp Liberty, I found myself wondering: why can’t the rest of the world be more like camp? Why can’t the love and acceptance that exists at camp exist in the rest of the world? From a young age, we are taught to be curious about our surroundings and to ask questions. We learn to recognize patterns and identify outliers. But where in our childhood do we learn to fear, reject, or feel contempt toward those who are different than ourselves? Why do some kids think that it is acceptable to point, tell stories behind someone’s back, and call someone names? Surely parents do not encourage these behaviors—but maybe they don’t take the proper measures to prevent them.
Perhaps one problem is that this type of bullying is mainly addressed after the fact, and only if it is witnessed by a parent or teacher. Few parents teach their kids that name-calling and teasing is wrong—unless they have actually seen their child exhibiting those behaviors.
I called my dad and asked him to remember what he had taught me as a child. “Hmm,” he said, “I don’t think we ever explicitly told you not to do those things, because we never saw you doing them.”
Our parents shape us by rewarding good behaviors and punishing bad ones. However, prevention of bullying may require measures that extend beyond this technique, as many parents never directly witness their children excluding or making fun of others. We must teach children that it is unacceptable to purposely make another human being feel uncomfortable, sad, or lesser in any way. We must celebrate the fact that everyone is unique and must emphasize that everyone deserves an equal amount of love and respect. Only then can the rest of the world experience the love, kindness, and acceptance that fill the air at Camp Liberty.
*Name has been changed for privacy reasons.