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Promoting positive values.

There is no-such thing as a value-free environment. Camp staff will always impart values, intentionally or unintentionally.

Camps provide a unique environment in which individuals may explore values. Children and youth can have an opportunity to examine their own values, be exposed to new values, and contemplate the values that influence their lives within the camp setting.

We can think of values as principles or guidelines that individuals believe to be important in life. Very often, values determine the course of action people will take and influence the way in which they direct their energy and resources.

What follows is an overview of the role camp counselors can play in promoting positive values, as well as strategies that can be used to help campers clarify their values.

Why Values Development?

There are a number of national social trends that point to the need for the promotion of positive values among campers. The following information forms a broad picture that may help camp staff understand the importance of values guidance based on an understanding of campers and their needs.

Diversity. The proportion of nonwhite youth is projected to increase dramatically in the future. By the year 2000, the U.S. Census predicts that 34 percent of the nation's children will be African American, Latino and Asian (Bureau of the Census, 1984).

Physical Health. A 1990 national commission report stated that "For the first time in the history of this country, young people are less healthy and less prepared to take their places in society than were their parents." (National Commission on the Role of the School and the Community in Improving Adolescent Health, 1990).

Social Health. Social health includes such factors as success in school, being substance-free, and other behaviors in accordance with social mores, or what is considered "normal" in society. According to a study by the Fordham Institute, the social health of youth in the United States dropped almost 50 percent within the last 20 years (Jennings, 1989). Research for the Carnegie Commission states that approximately one half of youth ages 10 to 17 are at risk for failing at school, drug abuse, becoming an adolescent parent, or delinquent behavior (Ooms and Henderdeen, 1989).

Family Structure/Patterns. Family structure and family patterns have changed greatly in the last two decades. It is predicted that nearly all children in the 6 to 12 year old age group will need out-of-school care by 1995 (Sugarman, 1989).

The Role of the Camp Counselor

Camp settings are particularly suited to exploring values because they are often open, dynamic systems that promote opportunities for knowledge and skill development, spiritual renewal, social bonding, as well as fun. Even so, some may wonder whether values are such an individual matter that the camp staff should attempt to be "value free" as much as possible.

There is no such thing as a value-free environment, camp staff always impart values. Camp counselors and administrators, both intentionally and unintentionally, transmit values to campers with whom they interact. Even the organization's vision or mission statement transmits values. All staff should be encouraged to carefully review and consider the types of values they might promote within the camp setting.

Since camp counselors have the most contact with campers, they should be particularly aware of the values they are transmitting. Their language, dress, attitudes, ideas and behavior toward others, as well as other factors, impact upon the campers they serve. In addition to promoting certain values through their interactions, counselors are in a position to help campers think about and clarify their values. If they are aware of the tools that are available, they can help campers clarify their values in a positive and constructive manner.

Promoting Values

Youth will adopt values as they grow and develop; it is to their advantage if they have been exposed to and encouraged to consider values that are generally considered to be positive and worthwhile. Following are a number of "generic" values that camps may want to promote within programs, activities and events. These values were selected based on a review of the objectives and values promoted by nine leading youth-serving organizations, as reported by Pittman (1991) of the Center for Youth Development and Policy Research. They are intended to represent basic core values that the camp counselor could promote in the camp setting.

Personal Development. Most camps promote values related to positive personal development. Participants should be encouraged to develop themselves physically, emotionally and mentally. Values related to physical fitness, health, learning, creativity, and exploration should be encouraged by camp counselors. Such values contribute to the positive development of the individual and are essential in promoting a higher quality of life.

Independence/Responsibility. An independent state, as opposed to a dependent state of being, provides an individual with a sense of freedom, self-control and self-esteem. There are numerous opportunities within camp programs, activities and events to allow campers to act independently and responsibly, and to assume responsibility in greater proportions over a period of time.

Counselors should allow campers an opportunity to make mistakes and learn from them. They should allow campers to become involved in the planning and execution of programs, activities and events in a manner that promotes independence and responsibility. And they should make campers aware of their responsibility as people to one another, to counselors, to their parents and others.

Leadership. Closely tied to independence and responsibility are values associated with leadership. Some authorities maintain that leadership qualities may emerge if counselors promote values related to leadership, such as being positive and fun. In addition, as campers are given opportunities for leadership and responsibility, counselors can also reinforce the ideal that individuals have a responsibility to model positive, constructive values.

Citizenship/Country. Counselors should recognize their responsibility to maintain a level of respect and positiveness in discussions that occur about the value of the democratic process and the role and responsibility of citizens in a democracy. Leaders should recognize that their opinions, ideas and values may strongly shape the perceptions of campers.

Respect for Others. Respect is closely tied to responsibility - if we have responsibilities to one another, to the group, to the camp counselor, to our parents and others, then we must consider their needs as well as our own.

The individual has a responsibility to recognize that his or her behavior will impact upon others either positively or negatively. Camp counselors can ask campers such clarifying questions as "Doesn't it feel great when you are in a group and everyone is working together?" Even if the answer is "no" to this question, it opens up the possibility for further dialogue and clarification.

Connecting With Others. There are many lonely, disconnected campers who have separated themselves from the larger group. Being outside of the group often leads to "acting out" behaviors that are negative and disruptive. Counselors can help such campers to realize the positive aspects of being part of the group. They can encourage them by asking questions like, "Would you like to come and tell others about your idea?" "What do you think were some of the good things about being part of the group today?"

Peer Pressure/Individuality. All campers are confronted with issues and situations where they must make decisions about whether to conform to group pressure or peer pressure, or whether to act as an individual and jeopardize a position within the group. It is important for individuals to feel empowered to follow their own values, feelings and instincts, rather than to allow themselves to be influenced into going against their better judgement. Counselors can help campers clarify their values by asking questions such as "How do you feel when you go along with the group against your best judgement?" "Do you think you would feel better about yourself if you trusted your own judgement and acted on it?"

Positive Enjoyment of Life. Life is great! Life has adventures, surprises and fun! We all have seen individuals who have the ability to inspire and positively excite a group, because of the way that they perceive life. We've also seen people who speak of life as problem-oriented, negative and depressing. The way counselors interact with campers about solving problems will communicate to campers either a positive orientation: that problems are challenges to be overcome and learned from, or a negative orientation: that problems are insurmountable, never ending obstacles.

Trust/Communication. If the camp counselor exhibits trust, open communication and unconditional concern and respect, then campers will use this information to help them formulate their impressions about the world. They will in turn be more will to trust and to communicate with others.

Teamwork / Competitiveness. Healthy competition based upon mutual support can be emphasized by all camp staff. Rather than suggesting campers must "win at any cost, " counselors should stress fair play and teamwork: "Play fair play hard, nobody loses. "

Environmental Ethic. Camps set in a natural environment provide opportunities for individuals to learn about nature and develop an understanding of such values as conservation and preservation. A natural environment also helps promote a greater awareness of the interdependence of life.

Following are some additional values that counselors may want to emphasize:





Freedom of Thought/Action


Critical Inquiry












Human Dignity


As campers develop these types of values, they will become more independently functioning, independently thinking individuals.

Helping Youth Consider Their Values

In addition to highlighting and supporting certain basic values, counselors can help campers review, evaluate and consider their own values. By asking probing questions, they can help campers think about their ideas, feelings and values.

For example, a camp counselor might ask a camper who has expressed an idea or feeling questions such as "How do you know that is right?" "Is that important to you? " "Have you felt that way for very long?" The goal is to talk to campers in a brief, thought provoking manner so that they begin to focus more clearly on who they are, what they believe in and what they want to do.

Some sample conversations are presented that might occur between a camp counselor and campers, using value clarifying statements.

Counselor: Amy, you say you enjoy nature crafts?

Amy: Yes, I like it a lot.

Counselor: What are some of the things you like most about nature crafts?

Counselor: John, you say you like using the compass?

John: I think they are a lot of fun.

Counselor: What do you think you can do to find out more about its use?

Heather: I love to swim.

Counselor: Oh, do you swim a lot?

Heather: Yes, I swim every day in the summer.

Counselor: Is swimming important to you?

You will notice that these conversations are brief and may not even have an "end." However, they have the effect of generating thought and interest. Campers are encouraged to consider their statements in a thoughtful way.

Other questions that can help campers consider and act upon their values might include: * Is this something you prize? * Are you glad about that9 * How did you feel when that happened? * Did you consider any alternatives? * Have you felt this way for a long

time? * Was that something you chose? * Did you have to choose that, was it

a free choice? * Did you do anything about that

idea? * Can you give me some examples of

that idea? * Would you really do that, or are you

just talking? * Have you thought much about that

idea? * What other possibilities are there? * Is that very important to you? * Would you like to tell others about

your idea? * How do you know it is right? (Purpel

and Ryan, 1976)

Whether the person questioned answers in a manner the counselor expects is irrelevant. The idea is to ask thought-provoking questions that encourage campers to consider their values.

As camp counselors try out these types of clarifying statements, they should keep in mind a few guidelines, adapted from Purpel and Ryan (1976). They are designed to help camp counselors avoid superimposing their own values on campers, and to keep the process light and brief: * Do not moralize, give values or evaluate. * The responsibility is on the camper

to examine his/her values. * The camper may choose to not examine

his/her values. * The points are short, they are not

intended to be long discussions. * The statements should relate to

each individual. * The technique should be used periodically,

not all the time. * There are no "right" answers. * The statements should be used creatively.


Every organization has values to which it subscribes and that it promotes. Through the assistance of camp counselors, campers can consider and develop values to which they will subscribe throughout their lives. In addition, they can also learn to think critically about their ideas, prior to accepting values as their own. This type of self examination and development will help them become more responsible, ethical and independently functioning adults, which in turn, will impact in a positive way upon our communities and society as a whole.


Bureau of the Census (1984). Projections for the population by age, sex, and race for the United States: 1983-2080, Middle Series. Current Population Report Series P-25, No. 952. Washington, D.C. Jennings, L. (1989). Fordham Institute's index documents steep decline in children's and youths' social health since 1970. Education Week, 9(9). National Commission on the Role of the School and the Community in Improving Adolescent health (1990). Code Blue: Uniting For Healthier Youth. Alexandria, Virginia: National Association of State Boards of Education. Ooms, T. and Henderdeen, L. (1989). Adolescent substance abuse treatment: evolving policy at federal, state and city levels. Washington, D.C.: Family Impact Seminar, American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. Pittman, K.J. (1991). A rationale for enhancing the role of the non-school voluntary sector in youth development. Washington, D.C.: Center for Youth Development and Policy Research. Purpel, D. and Ryan, K. (1976). Moral education: it comes with the territory. Berkeley: McCutchin. Sugarman, J. (1989). Early childhood: greatest vulnerability or greater opportunity. Youth Policy, 11(1). Susan R. Edginton is program development coordinator for Camp Adventure at the University of Northern Iowa. Christopher R. Edginton, Ph.D., is a professor and director of the School of Health, Physical Education and Leisure Services at the University of Northern Iowa.
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Article Details
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Author:Deginton, Christopher R.
Publication:Camping Magazine
Date:Mar 1, 1993
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