Striking A Balance: An Exploration of Staff-Camper Relationship Formation


  • Rachel O. Rubin University of Massachusetts Boston
  • Matthew Hagler University of Massachusetts Boston
  • Samantha A. Burton University of Massachusetts Boston
  • Jean E. Rhodes University of Massachusetts Boston



summer camp, youth-adult relationships, mentoring, qualitative


Previous research highlights a range of positive developmental outcomes associated with attending summer camp. Close staff-camper relationships likely contribute to positive development, but little is known about how these bonds are formed. The current study utilized constructivist thematic analysis of interviews with campers (n = 8) and staff members (n = 7) at an overnight summer camp to examine the factors and processes that promote or inhibit close staff-camper relationship formation. The main themes identified were striking a balance, level of experience, and relationship-promoting behaviors. Staff members experience apparent paradoxes in their roles (e.g., relating to campers while also exerting authority), but navigate these tensions by using relationship-promoting behaviors and through increased experience. These findings suggest that staff training and supervision should emphasize relationship-promoting behaviors, continue throughout the summer, and be informed by campers’ perspectives. Additionally, camp administrators should capitalize on accrued experience by prioritizing staff retention.


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doi: 10.2224/sbp.2002.30.5.485