How to deal with mean authority figures

Tech deck12345 asks: I am in a summer camp, and my babysitter is really really mean. What should I do?

Hi Tech deck12345 –

Now I now that lots of people (and dogs) define “really mean” in different ways, but let me start with a simple statement here.  Babysitters, dogsitters, and all other kinds of caregivers have their jobs for one reason. To take care of the littler ones.  It’s great if they can teach them something, or have fun with them, or clean up after them, but that’s all secondary to what matters most – CARE.  And if a babysitter ignores the kids in the house they’re staying in and spends all her time on the phone with her boyfriend (or in person with her boyfriend!), or a dogsitter doesn’t feed the dogs, or kicks them, those people are JERKS!

Okay, got that out of my system.  Good!

Now about your camp:  Tech deck12345, I don’t know what mean things this person is doing to you, but regardless, if they’re an employee of the camp, that means they’re really working for you!  So you have every right to speak up about it – whether that’s to your parents, to someone higher up at the camp, or even to that babysitter’s face (if you trust they wouldn’t be mean to you about it).

Now sometimes, people at a camp can seem mean when they don’t mean to be.  Like if they’re coaching you in a team by yelling at you “Come on!  You can run faster than that!  Pay attention!” which might sound like they’re angry, but they’re just trying to push you to your best effort.  Or they might be a bit rough in the way they handle you when they’re trying to teach you the right way to swim, or to paddle a canoe.  With all of these, I would actually argue that you should work to develop what people call “a thick skin.”  That means that you should get to where you can handle that kind of criticism or harsh touch, because you’re going to get a lot more of it later in your life, and you might as well start building a tolerance for it now.

But then other people seem mean because they’re physically abusive!  If a counselor or babysitter or anyone else there is hitting any of the kids, or touching them in ways that seem creepy, that is flat-out WRONG, and you should tell someone about it at once!  That person is unsafe, and either needs to be quickly taught never to do that again, or needs to be kicked out of that camp right away!

But there’s a third kind of mean, which is more… (I love showing off what big words I can use!) Insidious.  “Insidious” means that it doesn’t look as bad as it is, and it works in a nasty secret way to do a lot of damage.  And the Insidious form of meanness I’m talking about is called Shaming.

Shaming is when someone says or does things to make someone feel bad about themselves.  Not about the way they draw or throw a ball (those can be improved), but about themselves as people.  We see it every day.  Someone throws a ball badly, and someone yells at them, “You’re pathetic! You can’t throw at all!  You shouldn’t even be playing!”  Or someone makes a mistake at school and people laugh and say, “You’re such an idiot.”  Or someone tries to talk to someone they’re attracted to, who responds, “What?!  Get away from me, you creep!  How dare you think I’d be with you?!”

These experiences are devastating, to anyone.  And if they get inside you and make you believe you’re useless or unlovable, they can ruin a lot of your life.  And they happen to everyone, some time or another.

But they shouldn’t come from caregivers!  As I said before, that’s the whole point of caregiving – to keep you safe!

Now here’s the problem: if you have a babysitter or counselor who’s shaming you, it’s not easy to talk to their boss or your parent and get them stopped, because they might not understand how bad you’re feeling.  But you should try.  And if the jerk keeps it up, keep talking about it.  Because eventually, an adult will get it.  They’ll understand what’s going on.  And at that point, they should be able to stop that caregiver from doing it to you – and, hopefully, stop them from doing it to anyone else.

So I know, Tech deck12345, this is a very long answer to your very short question!  But it’s a pretty complex issue.  Still, here’s a summary of what I would do if I were in your shoes:

1)    If they’re just being harsh, but not meaning to be mean, I’d work to get a thicker skin so I can take it.

2)    If they’re hitting me or anything else physical, I’d go talk to someone in charge and get that stopped.

3)    And if they’re shaming me or other kids, I’d try talking to someone.  But if that didn’t work… I’d raise the hair on the back of my neck, show my fangs, jump on them, and take out a big chunk of their behind!  (But I know you can’t do that, so, best to just keep talking).

Remember, Tech deck12345, the one thing shamers can’t stand is you talking about what they’re doing.  Once you tell someone, the shaming isn’t insidious anymore!  The secret is out!  So honor yourself and your friends, and get talking!

Hope it gets lots better soon!


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