Is requesting an apology to my kid going overboard?
August 2, 2017 7:53 PM   Subscribe

My kid did not like the "jockular" attitude his camp counselor had toward him. I plan to talk to the counselor about it, but should I ask him to apologize to my kid as well or is that taking it too far?

My kid likes his camp counselor, but today he told me that he was "mean" to him. When I asked him why, he told me:

'Counselor asked me to tell him what [a word in his mother tongue] meant, and I didn't want to tell him. And he told me that if I didn't tell him he would start to call me [new name, which inadvertently pokes fun of actual name]'

  • [word in his mother tongue] is not a bad word, but one that was in a song that was popular last year

  • [actual name] - FWIW his actual name is actually rather common, and I'm surprised that many people seem to be obsessed with it, but I digress

  • I'm not sure that I would call it "bullying", per se, but rather "jockular" where one's approach to child-rearing is a little more rough-and-tough.

    And actually what bothered my kid the most, was not the jokes about his name or the translation request, but rather the fact that he was cornered. Basically he had to do something or suffer the consequences.

    So I intend to talk to the counselor tomorrow - let him know that it wasn't cool at all, and that I expect more from someone that is supposed to take care of him.

    My question is, should I insist that he apologize to my kid, or is that pushing things too far?

    One part of me says "yes" - my kid needs to feel safe at this place
    Another part of me says "no" - by asking him to apologize, in one way, I'm doing the same thing he did to my kid.
    posted by bitteroldman to Human Relations (37 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
    Maybe rather than requesting an apology per se you can talk to the counselor and let them know that the incident made your son upset, and go from there. I can see why your son would be upset and don't think the counselor's behavior seemed quite appropriate and it may be good for the counselor to apologize. But more important than words of apology I'd think would be to make sure the counselor understands why your son was upset, and for the counselor to talk to your son about what happened and ensure that he is not making your son uncomfortable in this way going forward. So, approach the counselor as if you are trying to understand what happened/get more info/tell your son's side, rather than just asking for an apology right off the bat may be a good idea.
    posted by bearette at 8:22 PM on August 2, 2017 [3 favorites]

    No, for the reason you've given in your last line.
    posted by JimN2TAW at 8:23 PM on August 2, 2017 [6 favorites]

    I wouldn't talk to the counselor at all. This seems like a low-stakes scenario in which your son can build resilience. He should be encouraged to determine what he wants from the counselor (if anything) and then he should be helped to brainstorm strategies to get what he wants. He should also be encouraged to think through the consequences if he doesn't get what he wants, which are likely to be relatively mild (discomfort for a week or two and then not having to worry about it any more). He should also be encouraged to consider ways in which he could have deflected the situation or made it more comfortable for himself. For example, some kids would be okay at making a joke out of it, or making a funny threat back. (My guess is that a jokey fake-fight is what the counselor was after --- a very common male form of socialization and one that your son will probably have to deal with eventually).

    Another part of me says "no" - by asking him to apologize, in one way, I'm doing the same thing he did to my kid.

    Not at all. The power dynamic is completely different and you're not randomly setting a consequence for an arbitrary failure. I still don't think it's worth doing, but it's not immoral to ask people to say or do things to make up for them being rude or unpleasant.
    posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 8:30 PM on August 2, 2017 [52 favorites]

    No, don't do this. Think of your larger goal for your son. You want him to be able to deal with the various styles of play -- even some that are a little rough and tumble -- that are part of a kid's life. You'll make it a bigger deal to your son if you get the apology, and the counselor will not likely feel apologetic for what he actually did, though he may very well be truly sorry he hurt your son's feelings -- he'll still think he was just being playful in a teasing way that is not uncommon. Kids who learn how to roll with this kind of thing do much better all along the line. What you want to teach your kid is that there's a difference between being bullies or picked on (which demands action) and the fact that some folks have this kind of humor. Teach him to spar back a little bit, in a fun way, and you'll help him a lot more than if you magnify this incident.
    posted by flourpot at 8:32 PM on August 2, 2017 [24 favorites]

    Yeah, I think you want to let him know the impact on your kid such that his own empathy leads him to apologize, be extra nice, or whatever he does in these situations. A begrudging apology (especially one carrying the bitterness of having himself been cornered, as you point out), could actually make your child feel weirder and less comfortable.

    Also, I agree with flourpot. I wish people didn't spar with putdowns, but some do. "Call me whatever you like" with an air of confidence might be an approach he could take.
    posted by salvia at 8:35 PM on August 2, 2017 [4 favorites]

    This kind of thing is not necessarily meant to be an insult or a real attempt at coercion. It is a particular move that people do with kids (especially boys) when the kid sort of...refuses something out of nowhere in a way that other kids will think is weird. The adult tries to make it less awkward / weird and defuse the situation. They do this by adding a nonsense threat to the mix so the kid can change their answer in response to the "threat" without losing face. Think "okay, you got me, it's [x]." Or, if the kid keeps saying no, it adds a sort of odd absurdity to it and/or makes it seem like the kid involved was right to see the situation as a power struggle; it becomes a funny faux-conflict instead of a non sequitur response from the kid.

    The way you determine if this is what's happening, or if the adult is being a bully/trying to really pressure the kid, is how the adult deals with it the next day. If the subject is dropped completely by tomorrow, it's because the adult was trying a particular type of conversational tactic to keep things un-wierd, and has no real intent of pressuring the kid to do whatever the original thing was.
    posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 8:43 PM on August 2, 2017 [7 favorites]

    I think the best approach is to teach your kid strategies for dealing with this kind of situation. Don't intervene unless the counselor repeats the behavior.
    posted by delight at 8:45 PM on August 2, 2017 [6 favorites]

    First, I disagree with those who are saying that you should use this to teach your kid resilience. If your kid refers to someone as "mean," I'm betting he's a little kid, not an adolescent. The lesson to learn that "grownups" are allowed to bully him is not one that I'd accept.

    Next, you can't demand an apology because it won't be sincere; that's not how it works.

    Next, I think you need to ask for a meeting with the camp administrator/director, not merely the counselor. There are things that are appropriate according to camp rule and there are things that are not. Teasing a child about a foreign word/name and threatening to continue to tease him if he doesn't comply are things that stereotypically "mean" gym teachers do, and should not be acceptable to the camp administration; if it is, you may want to think twice about what other kinds of cultural teasing/hazing/threatening are allowed.

    If the counselor is a teen, he may not realize the impact of what he did, but it's not solely your responsibility (or right) to deal with such things. That's why you need to calmly arrange to speak with the admin to find out if your child's description was accurate, if this behavior (if accurate) is acceptable to the administration or not, and how it will be dealt with in the future (assuming you decide to stay).

    It's one thing to be a helicopter parent; it's quite another to allow your child to believe that people in authority have the power to verbally abuse him unchecked.
    posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 8:46 PM on August 2, 2017 [20 favorites]

    If my child was made to feel uncomfortable by an authority figure, I would want to figure out how to ensure my child would feel comfortable going forward.

    Situations involving teachers and counselors like this are tricky, because, if you cannot extract your son from the situation, teachers and counselors have a lot of power, and a lot of power to make your child's experience worse.

    So, there are 4 options:

    1) tell the counselor, and the counselor's supervisor, your son felt humiliated by his jocular attitude
    -- this can backfire if neither the counselor nor their supervisor agrees to change behavior (this is the most common scenario) and they make life worse for your child

    2) tell you child that they can always tell the counselor to "fuck off", and you will back them
    -- this is what I do, but often kids will not tell a person in a position of authority to fuck off

    3) remove your child from the program
    -- we have done this

    4) grin and bear it
    -- our typical attitude

    Once again, teachers and counselors wield a tremendous amount of power over parents, because they control the children. It's not a good situation. You can also go to war with #1, but it may be a waste of time.

    I think asking for an apology is a bad idea though. Most kids just want things to be normal (ie, no teasing).
    posted by My Dad at 8:51 PM on August 2, 2017 [3 favorites]

    The goal is not to teach him that bullying is okay. There's a middle ground between "parent immediately intervenes" and "bullying is okay." That middle ground is setting boundaries and expressing yourself when something is making you uncomfortable. It is also determining when something rises to the level of bullying (vs an annoying one-time behavior that can be safely ignored).

    "Dealing with assholes" is not a skillset that you want to leave completely undeveloped until, like, middle school, when the other people involved will be little shits that you can't actually complain about/to.

    You also want to avoid rushing to escalate things on your kid's say-so. Some kids find it really embarrassing and clam up about bad behavior; some kids use it to get out of trouble. In general, it's better to leave some distance between "generally good teacher says something I don't like according to my kid" and "I need to intervene ASAP to defend my kid from immediate harm." Those are two very different scenarios and conflating the two is no good.
    posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 8:56 PM on August 2, 2017 [13 favorites]

    I wouldn't ask for an apology - at most, maybe a "could you talk with him about it?" If the counselor's not the type to apologize on his own, forcing him into it would be more likely to make him feel antagonistic toward you.

    That said, how old is your son and is there any subtext here of ethnic bias or something along those lines?
    posted by trig at 9:01 PM on August 2, 2017 [2 favorites]

    This actually sounds like a racist/xenophibic incident, and it doesn't reflect well on the counselor or staff that this was allowed to happen. This is your 7-8 year old ESL son from an international adoption, right? And some camp counselor is doing this bully thing singling your kid about to make Gangnam Style jokes (or whatever song from your son's country of origin) and then giving him a bullshit English name instead of his actual, original name? I don't know the racial makeup of your family or the counselor, so apologies if I'm being presumptuous, but if this is something like a white counselor saying "Hey, Gangnam Style, time for you to get an American name" to your son, especially in what your son sees as a "mean" way, I would really consider. If you aren't familiar with racism and being an advocate for an adopted child when they encounter it, time to learn.
    posted by moonlight on vermont at 9:01 PM on August 2, 2017 [35 favorites]

    From your previous questions, it appears that your son is adopted from a foreign country as an older adoptee. He has different needs than a kid you raised from birth, as you know and have been attending to already, like the champ parent you are. While I'm a fan of teaching resilience, I think the camp counselor could stand to get a little more empathy here. If it's another kid (older teen), just go talk to the head of camp. Tell them your kid is still working on assimilation and doesn't need to be hassled by counselors about his language or origin or his name. If it's an adult staff counselor, you can say this directly to the counselor. Your kid doesn't need an apology from the counselor, he just needs to be treated with respect moving forward. If the counselor gets it, he might be motivated to apologize on his own, but if not... as long as your kid isn't experiencing harm, I'd let it go after the conversation with the right adult.

    Note that if this has even a whiff of racism/xenophobia, you will need to be more forceful in your approach.
    posted by juniperesque at 9:03 PM on August 2, 2017 [10 favorites]

    Teasing a child about a foreign word/name and threatening to continue to tease him if he doesn't comply are things that stereotypically "mean" gym teachers do, and should not be acceptable to the camp administration; if it is, you may want to think twice about what other kinds of cultural teasing/hazing/threatening are allowed.

    Yes. This kind of "teasing" is blatantly prejudiced and something worth standing up against, as a message to your kid and also because it needs to stop.

    There is little that feels worse, though, than being in a position of having to accept a forced apology, so don't do that.
    posted by BibiRose at 9:15 PM on August 2, 2017 [9 favorites]

    I'm not sure whether this is an adult counsellor or a young adult one.

    If the latter I think I would go with a script based on information sharing like "hey can I talk to you? Yesterday my child came home pretty upset. He felt really cornered and disrespected over his heritage. I don't know if you realize how big an influence you have over my child's day, so I wanted to tell you."

    With an older adult I'd go with hey, my kid was upset. I'd prefer he not get teased about his ethnicity or his name by staff.
    posted by warriorqueen at 9:31 PM on August 2, 2017 [4 favorites]

    thank you all, for the thoughtful answers so far (keep em coming!). A few comments in response to all of yours:

  • indeed my kid is adopted, and is 7.
  • pretty much unanimous that I don't "force" an apology, and I agree!
  • for what it's worth, i think my kid interpreted the threat as "i'll make fun of your name", and not "i'll make fun of your foreign name".
  • The concept of race and ethnicity (and people's reactions to it) is still out of his grasp, though I expect we'll need to talk about it soon.
  • The more I think about it, the more it seems like the interaction was because the counselor couldn't take "no" for an answer, and wanted to assert his authority (or not want to lose face in front of his friends). Jerk move, though, to toy with something as important as someone's name.
  • Heh, I also thought of a witty answer for the counselor, but my kid would refuse to use it - he refuses to stoop to their level. He just wants to live in harmony with the world around him!

    I also appreciate the opinions on whether I should speak to the counselor at all (BTW, he's probably college-aged, and no longer an adolescent). My kid does need to be aware that there are people who exist, who use cruel methods of coercion; but he also needs to know that his parents will defend him and that he's not alone in his battles... but we already demonstrate that we will protect him in other ways - but, he's adopted so his needs are greater - but the real world doesn't care about one's origins - but he's got his whole life to figure things out; right now we need to re-establish a super-strong foundation for him - but...

  • posted by bitteroldman at 9:59 PM on August 2, 2017 [7 favorites]

    People are way over reacting here and missing the part where your kid was being disobedient and would not translate what he was saying. 99% of the time when kids do that they are insulting someone. The correct thing to do is to tell your kid: when the counselor asks you what you are saying, you tell him, don't refuse, but yes you are right that he shouldn't make fun, however it is harmless and you should let it go.

    For all the counselor knows our kid is calling some other kid names in his mother tongue. And I think he was making a point about how it's rude to talk in another language around people then refuse to translate by doing something he knew our kid would perceive as rude. Because it is rude, and he's going to get pushback on that from teachers going forward if he keeps doing it.

    Overall though you do NOT want to teach your kid that he can get our of doing stuff by running to Mom or Dad and having them come in and cause trouble. Listen to his tale of woe, say "that is terrible, poor you, btw it is rude to speak in a language people don't understand" then forget all about it. Nothing good comes from interfering. This is beyond minor and he needs better coping skills, not a big incident that freaks him out. He also doesn't need people to add to his anxiety by making a big deal out of everything unpleasant.
    posted by fshgrl at 10:02 PM on August 2, 2017 [7 favorites]

    For all the counselor knows our kid is calling some other kid names in his mother tongue. And I think he was making a point about how it's rude to talk in another language around people then refuse to translate

    Just to clarify, i never wrote my kid was disobedient - the counselor asked my kid to translate the words to a popular song whose lyrics were in his mother tongue.

    It's not that he was speaking in a foreign language In fact, he refuses to speak his mother tongue to anyone (which is a very common behavior in kids adopted from foreign countries).

    And more importantly, the counselor's method of coercion was rather cruel - and definitely not something my kid would have thought up on his own. Even if my kid did commit an 'offense' (refusing to be someone's personal translator or otherwise), messing with their sense of identity is not good - we constantly tell him how wonderful his name is.
    posted by bitteroldman at 10:22 PM on August 2, 2017 [14 favorites]

    Does your kid have an opinion about you talking to the counselor and intervening? I might start there and see if he feels better enough having talked to you about it and know that you're there for him.

    also I never understood the situation to be that the child was refusing to translate something that he'd actually said in front of the counselor.
    posted by oneear at 10:23 PM on August 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

    how is this not racist? Coercing someone into translating something in "his" language, despite the other person initially refusing? Retaliating by poking fun at their foreign heritage? Using a random word from "his" language as a moniker?
    How is this different from "Hey, Ching chang chung?"

    I don't get the advice to use this opportunity for teaching him to toughen up. Trust me, he'll get plenty of opportunity to get used to racist "teasing" from other kids (especially from kids at this camp, if they witnessed counsellor acting this way).

    Yes, you want to teach him ssomething. You want to teach him it is unacceptable behaviour for a person of authority, and this is how you are going to make it stop.

    What do you want him to learn about his place in the world? Teach him that.
    posted by Omnomnom at 10:46 PM on August 2, 2017 [19 favorites]

    fwiw I would have different advice if the teaser were another child. But this is an authority to your kid. He needs you.
    posted by Omnomnom at 10:47 PM on August 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

    People are way over reacting here and missing the part where your kid was being disobedient and would not translate what he was saying.

    Wrong, no person of any national origin is ever at any time compelled to translate a word in their native tongue for the amusement of a white american. Jesus fucking christ. It's a 7 year old child who doesn't deserve to be treated like a performing monkey.
    posted by poffin boffin at 10:56 PM on August 2, 2017 [58 favorites]

    If he were a mature 8 or older, I'd suggest helping him with ways he could advocate for himself in similar situations. But at 7, he's too little to do that very effectively. (Practice with him anyway that he can say, "I don't want to do that" or "I don't like that" but don't expect he'll manage it in the moment.)

    If I were the parent, I would take the counselor quietly aside and say that Son is shy about speaking in his native tongue, that it's common for adoptees, and it makes him feel bad to be put on the spot like that. I'll assume the best intentions of the counselor, so let's say he was trying to make your kid feel special and expert, to give him a chance to show off a bit, and apologetically says so. "Oh, of course, I totally get it," you reply. "But he'd rather show off his monkey bar skills, the native language issue is still very emotional and he's very shy about it in public." "I'm so sorry," counselor apologizes again. "I didn't think. It won't happen again!"

    If they're very good on training he might ask if he should apologize directly to your son, or convey an apology through you. Some kids get mega anxiety over an adult apology so it's often best to let parents decide ... you know best whether an apology would help your son close the issue, or just make it feel more active and important and upsetting.

    I might give the leadership a heads up, depending on whether there were other kids in my kid's situation (or likely to be in the future) just so they may include it in future counseling training. I would also talk to the leadership if my convo with the counselor was anything other than apologetic, and sincere in his good motivation that led to a bad outcome. If he seemed flippant or dickish or defensive, I would probably escalate.
    posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:58 PM on August 2, 2017 [22 favorites]

    ust to clarify, i never wrote my kid was disobedient - the counselor asked my kid to translate the words to a popular song whose lyrics were in his mother tongue.

    Oh, OK, my bad. I read the original question as the counselor asked him to translate a word that he was saying and he wouldn't. That would be pretty not OK for me as a kids sports coach because kids do that and it's almost always bad words (which they think adults will never figure out!). If the counselor wanted him to just do a translation for no reason and he wouldn't do it then and he tried to coerce him then yes, I'd say something. But I wouldn't make a huge deal out of it in your kids presence, that part still stands. If he's anxious it won't help. It's possible to tell a kid that "yep, you're right that shouldn't have happened" without going full avenger mode. A lot of the time that's all they want to hear anyway, they don't want a scene, just validation. Kids don't care too much about what people outside the family think.
    posted by fshgrl at 11:27 PM on August 2, 2017 [3 favorites]

    Cannot favourite moonlightinvermont hard enough. I'm certain there's a racist element in this. As the white mum of non-white children, I've had an incredibly steep learning curve around racism. Oh, god, how naive I've been. Please read hard about race.There's clearly a need for an as Ask question for resources for white parents in the same situation as you and I are in. Podcasts, writers, facebook, bloggers etc etc. Absorb it all. It's a steep learning curve and you need to be up to speed for your son asap.

    I wish I'd been on to this long ago. I've done my daughters a disservice in being so slow, and believing that as a hard core leftie liberal I was across race. I wasn't. I'm still not.
    posted by taff at 11:29 PM on August 2, 2017 [11 favorites]

    Sheesh, I'm having flashbacks to, like, every other adult in my childhood some 30+ years ago.
    "where are you REALLY from?"
    "what do they speak there?"
    "say a word in your language!"
    "Come on, don't be shy."
    "Come on, I'm waiting!"

    It's the fucking relentlessness that gets you. And it was everywhere. My parents couldn't protect me because they often weren't there. And when they were, they would excuse me for being "shy" in order to get me out of the situation. So I figured the onus was on me to toughen up and this was just how people treat you when you're not one of them.

    You have the great gift of being able to to do something for your son. Show him you won't, and therefore he also doesn't, have to accept this behaviour.
    posted by Omnomnom at 11:29 PM on August 2, 2017 [29 favorites]

    God yes, everything that moonlight in vermont and taff and Omnomnom said. This is racist behaviour, intentionally so or not, it doesn't matter. Most kids of colour experience stuff like this--I know my brother and I did--and they need to be assured it is NOT okay and they're not being overly sensitive.

    If I were you I'd speak to the counsellor, but also the supervisor, because probably all the counsellors should be getting some form of diversity awareness training (aka "how not to be racist") in their pre-camp training and orientation.
    posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 1:13 AM on August 3, 2017 [3 favorites]

    for what it's worth, i think my kid interpreted the threat as "i'll make fun of your name", and not "i'll make fun of your foreign name".

    Failing to see any difference in impact here. Wrong, either way.
    posted by I_Love_Bananas at 2:29 AM on August 3, 2017 [5 favorites]

    the more it seems like the interaction was because the counselor couldn't take "no" for an answer, and wanted to assert his authority.

    Having worked in childcare, this is sadly not uncommon. And there isn't necessarily much you can do about it. But what you can do, there are two parts:

    1. The carer: "Hey there, Dirk. My son was upset yesterday when you tried get him to translate. It's common for adoptees to have mixed feelings about talking in their mother tongues, in the future I'd really appreciate if you could not push this issue with him, and - where you can - back off on putting him in any position where he feels he can't opt out. Thanks for your understanding, I appreciate the work you guys do looking after him."

    2. Your kid: "What Dirk did to you was wrong. You don't have to do anything like that if you don't want to. I've spoken to Dirk, and told him not to do it again. If he does do it again, ask him to stop once, and please tell me when I pick you up, because it's not fair." (kids are big on fairness at this age, I've found)

    The merging of these two parts is where it gets trickier. Your kid may tell you a lot of different stories about Dirk going forward, with varying degrees of credibility. But as a parent myself, and as a carer, I think most people get pretty good at sorting the concerning things versus the garbled kid things. The real outcomes here are 1: Dirk knows he can't screw with your kid, without you being on it. This may be all the reminder he needs, when you deal with kids a lot, you can sometimes find yourself unconsciously slipping into child-like interaction patterns. Sometimes harmless, sometimes not so much. 2. Your kid knows that they can come to you with this, you'll take it seriously, and you'll do your best to protect them.

    This may not end the behaviours, but you're laying down good patterns, and it will be much easier when/if you need to escalate, and most important: your son knows you have his back.

    Best of luck,
    posted by smoke at 3:27 AM on August 3, 2017 [18 favorites]

    Bleh. I feel this is totally a microaggression. As someone who was raised bilingual, I was often singled out by teachers because I used foreign words-- and absolutely treated differently for it by them. Lots of them told me, 'we don't speak that here,' and in kindergarten-- when I was five-- my teacher called my mother to the school and told her that she thought the fact I peppered other language words in my speech occasionally meant I would have major learning difficulties going forward and I should 'absolutely not speak [language]' at home any longer.

    My mom told her where to stick it. And she was right; apart from the fact being bilingual is a boon and helped me greatly in my studies, my English has now far surpassed my native language anyway.

    It 'wasn't almost always bad words,' by the way. It was my first language and as a child, I didn't have a vast vocabulary yet, so sometimes I spoke a language more familiar to me. Likewise, me and my brothers spoke our native language together because we understood it better and wanted to communicate with each other, not because we were talking crap about other people. And yet, people would get irrationally angry if we spoke together, and most of the time, they weren't even part of the conversation and were eavesdropping.

    I know this isn't the case here, but my point is even if it wasn't overt, we were singled out and shamed, to the point that my siblings and I rarely speak our native language amongst ourselves any more, because at school we were made to feel bad for doing so. Eventually, years of habit means we just speak English together. And that makes me sad; years later my nephews are losing touch with the language and will need tutors. But this is common; I had a lot of friends growing up who were also children of immigrants, and they often shunned and hated our shared native language and refused to speak it. As adults, lots of them regret losing the language.

    I was lucky, my mother instilled a great deal of love for our home country and pride for the language, and always encouraged it and that helped a lot. I know this is a different circumstance, given the adoption etc, but I hope you can instill this in him.

    I wouldn't force the guy to apologize, but I would have strong words. This is a thing that teachers/people in authority do to children, it is totally disrespectful and absolutely not ok.
    posted by Dimes at 4:14 AM on August 3, 2017 [10 favorites]

    It strikes me that there's so much going right with this-- your kid senses that the way he was treated was not OK and trusted you enough to tell you. A lot of kids internalize bullying, think it's their fault somehow or avoid telling because they fear any response will end up costing them. Luckily this is a short-term situation, but at least now you have reason to hope that if it happens again, your kid will communicate with you.
    posted by BibiRose at 5:21 AM on August 3, 2017 [3 favorites]

    It's hard for me to understand the actual issue. Instead of asking for an apology, try to define why the issue is not okay. Mocking is not an okay way to treat kids. Mocking someone's name or nationality is discriminatory and unacceptable. This will help you make your complaint more successfully.
    posted by theora55 at 7:05 AM on August 3, 2017 [3 favorites]

    If this is a one week day camp that is over in 2 days, I'd say it depends on how much communication you have with the staff. At most of my similarly aged kid's camps, I barely interact with these people. I'd call the person in charge of dealing with parents (the membership coordinator or something) and say "I wanted to talk to you about one of the counselors, Derek. He treated my son in some racial inappropriate ways. I realize that your counselors are teenagers, but I imagine that you all also have some training for standards of conduct.
    We heard a lot of good things about this camp, so I was surprised by this.
    I'd like to know what you think we should do to work on this situation immediately as well as in the future for your staff generally. "

    I would think that the counselor being talked to by his boss would possibly resolve this behavior better in the long term than a parent saying it. Again, in my experience, I seldom interact with the counselors so I'm not sure when you could do this when there aren't 10 kids running wild and parents trying to sign in. Drop offs and pick ups are chaotic.
    posted by k8t at 7:08 AM on August 3, 2017 [2 favorites]

    oh god you can't make this guy apologize to your kid without asking your kid if he wants that and if that would be ok. There must be kids who would welcome that and feel strong and powerful about their parent 'defeating' the outside authority, instead of abjectly humiliated and unable to trust their parents ever again, but you have to check first!

    this has absolutely nothing to do with the level of offense, which I agree is real and high; your kid tells you something in what's automatically assumed to be confidence and privacy, you can't go over his head to make it a between-grownups matter unless you both agree on it or unless you're prepared to keep it private from the kid. I have many memories of teachers doing awful things and getting a parent-encouraged apology from one of them directly to me would have been worse. everybody's different, maybe it would make him feel protected and valued, but you have have have to ask him first.
    posted by queenofbithynia at 7:29 AM on August 3, 2017 [3 favorites]

    A camp counselor should not be telling a child "do this thing or I will make fun of you". This is abusive and should be reported to the counselor's boss.
    posted by blueberry at 10:35 AM on August 3, 2017 [2 favorites]

    I like EyebrowsMcGee's suggestion. Having a conversation with the counsellor once, asking them to help navigate this complex cultural transition, can not but go over well. A good person who was trying their hand at this position but maybe not a pro (the case for most counsellors) would appreciate this feedback. Realistically, you should be able to talk to the program head about this and they should handle it, since that is what they are being paid to do. I'd look on any institution that couldn't handle this with a jaundiced eye. What are you paying them to do otherwise?

    So don't let it drop because it's ambiguous. But I will say this. I am a deeply sensitive person and I sincerely believe that many times, teachers will bully students simply because they do not like them and can get away with it. It is quite possible that you have stumbled on a camp with bad values, a shitty camp. To me, the counsellor's behavior really seemed to me like an attempt to connect. It's not an age appropriate behavior, but reading the question, it seemed to me like a misfire instead of a deliberate attempt to demean.

    If this person is a career teacher, feel free to ignore and go nuclear on their ass, but if they're a silly teen on a summer contract, I'd go easy at first. No strong words.

    Anyhow, none of this really matters, right? You just want your kid to be happy. So I'll say this. Your kid won't remember this day in 10 years, but they may remember your reaction. Do not frame this incident to them as someone trying to harm them because of their background. Do let them know that "I don't want that" is a great response. They're young and this is a nuts world we are living in, but that's all the advice I can think to give.
    posted by benadryl at 8:18 PM on August 3, 2017 [2 favorites]

    This was a textbook racist microaggression. It would be great to try to put your kid into environments where there are PoC authority figures.
    posted by pseudostrabismus at 9:39 PM on August 3, 2017 [2 favorites]

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