Camp Crush

Dear Sharon,
A 9-year-old boy has developed a huge crush apparently on my 16-year-old teenage daughter who’s a counselor at his summer day camp. He calls her at home all the time, and it’s made her very uncomfortable. Her natural impulse is to avoid him now at all costs. I think there is a better response for her but would like your opinion on the matter as well. Should she tell the camp? Call his parents? Talk to him? What would be most appropriate here and most sensitive?

Dear Parent,

Crushes can be good. They are often an opportunity to unreservedly like someone, a wonderful part of life. They can also be a nice “ego boosting” compliment to the recipient.

Even though it is common for children to get crushes on teachers or counselors there need to be limits set on how “far” this type of crush should go. It is important that these limits be set with thought and care.

9 year olds can easily feel humiliated or heartbroken if they are told that they are too young to “love” someone they really care about. Teenagers can feel embarrassed about almost anything; a younger child’s crush can easily change from a sweet compliment to a humiliating experience if certain lines are crossed.

Because of such sensitivities it is often wise for an objective, uninvolved adult to begin to resolve any problems arising from a crush, such as repeated calls to a counselor’s home. Usually a skilled staff member who already has a good relationship with the younger child is a good person to intervene. A challenge (one that is often present when setting limits for children) is figuring out how to be caring and respectful while explaining why certain behaviors don’t make sense. Conversations (it may take more than one) that discuss why a camper can like his counselor very much but can’t call her at home can be very hard to digest without the proper support and understanding

If a camp is unable or unwilling to help out then another adult will need to step in. The parent of either child could certainly be useful but only if they are relaxed and not mad or disappointed at anyone involved. As Moms and Dads sometimes feel pressure to have perfectly behaved children it is important to remind any parents who are involved in the discussion that nothing “bad” has happened.
The staff in this situation might need some support as well. It is good for them to understand that teachers and counselors who work with children often become the object of crushes. It often means that they are doing a good job.

The ideal result of any adult intervention would be that both young people would be able to maintain their connection (often a very good one) in appropriate staff-student parameters. They would be able to enjoy each other’s company without any unwanted repercussions.

A child’s initial crushes are important moments, I hope that you and your daughter were able to get some help so that everyone involved is happy and looking forward to camp next summer.