Overreaction Nation: The Pocket Knife at Camp

Hi ebesfaffzk
Readers — This story comes to us from Meg, a college student who came face to face with Overreaction Nation — a society so over-wrought with fear that it can’t see a young person without imagining some terrible thing is about to happen. Ironically, then it did. You’ll see why. – L.
Hi, I’m a former kid who was relatively Free-Range (sometimes even with my parents’ consent), but then had a nasty collision with the fear-driven culture we have now.
Here’s the situation: I was 18 (that’s actually technically adult, right?), and going to summer camp at an arts camp, on the other side of the country. Because I believe in being prepared, I brought my pocket knife, which was small but well-sharpened.Long story short, I ended up not only being expelled for having a “weapon,” but somehow the school counselors decided that I was prone to violence and self-harm, and recommended that I be sent to a mental-health facility! (A psychiatrist of my family’s acquaintance gave me a clean bill of mental health shortly afterwards.)
The experience was fairly traumatic and pretty well ruined my summer. It took me a while to get to the point where I can discuss it without crying, and this is coming from someone who generally prides herself on being tough and stoic.If the counselors and administration had been a little more reasonable, a little more willing to believe that I was a rational and responsible person, and a little less afraid of lawsuits, I could have escaped a world of hurt. – Meg
Lenore Here: I am all for helping young people — actually, all people — going through psychologically difficult times. The issue seems to be seeing difficulties where there are none. Or blowing up little problems into big ones. To quote another parenting philosophy which dovetails with ours here: Sometimes the folks in power have to CTFD*.

23 Responses to Overreaction Nation: The Pocket Knife at Camp

  1. lollipoplover September 30, 2013 at 12:09 pm #

    I wonder what the art camp policy is on exacto knives and glue GUNS? Either could be used as a weapon. Do they do woodworking there or carving arts that require working with knives? I mean a swiss army knife is a TOOL, fool.

    What’s next? Ban usage of glitter? Because everyone knows glitter is just a gateway craft to rhinestones, bedazzles, and feathers.

  2. Michael F September 30, 2013 at 12:09 pm #

    This makes me concerned that if I give my son a pocket knife what the repercussions are going to be, this is his second year of Cub Scouts and while he knows how to use a chef’s knife he needs *SOMETHING* for camping. Teaching him how to be prepared, and how to protect himself from zealots is going to just be difficult…or I may just have to deal with the fallout.

  3. pentamom September 30, 2013 at 12:35 pm #

    Michelangelo wouldn’t have had a chance in this culture. Imagine the course of his life if he hadn’t even been allowed to TOUCH a knife while studying his craft as a teenager.

  4. Donna September 30, 2013 at 1:07 pm #

    Why the subsequent evaluation? Did your parents actually believe the camp that you were prone to violence and self-harm and may need to be committed to a mental health facility?

  5. Papilio September 30, 2013 at 1:30 pm #

    Oh I’m sure *someone* in that story should be sent to a mental-health facility. Just not sure it’s Meg…

    @Pentamom: And all that poisonous paint – Oh NO!!

  6. CJ September 30, 2013 at 2:13 pm #

    There are many reasons for this, but a significant contributing factor is the dynamic that now exists between an individual in authority and their organization. Judgment or common sense when applying rules and policy is pretty much not possible now. And the reason is that people have learned that the organization will attempt to protect itself no matter the cost or circumstance.

    So, as an individual working for an organization, if you use any judgment when applying a policy and there is fallout, your organization will not support you whatsoever–you are classified as a “rogue” that did not enforce the organization’s policies.

    This leads to the absurd results we have now, in which individuals move to protect their jobs/roles and enforce policies in the most rigid ways possible.

    As a human, it saddens me and as a parent, it scares me to death that children have no leeway to make understandable mistakes.

  7. Josh S September 30, 2013 at 3:27 pm #

    Dear Camp ________,
    I have given my [son/daughter] a small pocket knife for use while at your camp. [S/he] is well acquainted with safety and proper use of this tool.

    If you have any questions or concerns, I can be reached at [phone #].

  8. Beth September 30, 2013 at 3:35 pm #

    We can’t even consistently place those who need mental health services into mental health facilities, and now we want to put 18-year-old art students in them?

  9. Warren September 30, 2013 at 4:33 pm #

    Old enough to go off and die for the same country that says you are a danger to yourself and other’s for carrying a pocket knife. God Bless America.

  10. Ben September 30, 2013 at 5:06 pm #

    How are you supposed to whittle a stick for your campfire marshmallows? I’m guessing campfires are banned too. If you don’t want kids to be a danger to themselves and others, at some point you’ll need to teach them to use a knife safely.

    It would be nice if Meg’s parent’s were asked to sign a waiver to void the camp of any responsibility if she went on a killing spree. At least it would’ve opened a mental health facility spot for someone who actually needs it.

  11. pentamom September 30, 2013 at 5:34 pm #

    “Why the subsequent evaluation? Did your parents actually believe the camp that you were prone to violence and self-harm and may need to be committed to a mental health facility?”

    Maybe they just wanted make sure she wouldn’t be labeled? Or the experience created doubts about her mental health in Meg’s own mind?

  12. Gina September 30, 2013 at 7:47 pm #

    @lollipopover–thank you, once again, for my laugh of the day!!

    “Glitter is a gateway craft”….ROFLMAO!!!!

  13. Connie September 30, 2013 at 8:45 pm #

    Wow, have times changed! Now, I realize that at 62 I may seem ancient to some readers, but I went summer cap for several years. For two weeks we slept four to a platform tent and had all kinds of adventures. We swam every morning even those really chilly mornings. Before camp we had a list of required items – among them a pocket knife. I carried a small knife in my purse until a few years ago when I lost it and just never got around to replacing it. That means I carried it all through high school. I hardly ever stabbed anyone – well actually, I never harmed anyone with it. My youngest son carries a swiss army knife (although he has to plan ahead when he goes to places that check for weapons)

  14. Donna September 30, 2013 at 8:51 pm #

    Some seem to have the impression that she actually went to a mental health facility. She said it was RECOMMENDED that she go to a mental health facility, not that she was committed to a mental health facility. And, as someone who has tried to have a person or two committed (really), it is extremely difficult to commit a person to a mental health facility against their wishes. Families generally can’t even do it, hence the large number of homeless mentally ill wandering the streets. There is no way in hell that a camp could do it.

    Really, while I think the camp was idiotic, I guess I just have trouble seeing the trauma in all this. Yes, getting kicked out of camp is disappointing and I can see where it would ruin your summer, but the recommendation about mental health treatment would have been treated as the ridiculousness that it is in my family. We would have laughed about it all summer, knowing that I was not actually mentally ill or prone to violence or self-harm. In fact, we’d probably still be laughing at it now, eons later.

  15. Betsy September 30, 2013 at 9:23 pm #

    Really, it wouldn’t be libel if the arts organization was named in a factual account. That’s what people on TripAdvisor and Yelp do. Living in Michigan, I’m just hoping it’s not one of the fine art camps we have here that students come across the country to attend. I hate litigious tendencies, but since it seems to be here to stay, I say we use lawsuits appropriately (“emotional distress, etc.”). Probably the financial bottom line is going to be the only way to bring back some rational thinking. I hope Meg will be able to laugh at this in a few years – it makes a great outrageous party tale. And she should name names.

  16. Kimberly September 30, 2013 at 10:27 pm #

    Why the follow up evaluation – simple to give the young woman a clean bill of health. If she was younger I would say to keep from being reported to CPS.

    Just finished my annual training. Not seeking medical care including mental health care is a reportable offence. In the training they were specific it was about serious on going infections, not having medication for chronic conditions, and not seaking help when there are suicidal threats.

    They also specifically said – (In Texas) children going up unsupervised is NOT a reportable offence.

  17. Daniela October 1, 2013 at 2:09 am #

    Story 1: This is the story of the teacher from my first grader (living in Switzerland): she asked the parents if it was ok to buy a pocket knife for the kids. All parents agreed. Now, all the kids have a pocket knife and every Thursdays they go to the woods to learn how to use it!

    Story: My second grader goes to the Scouts. In his first camp he learnt how to use a pocket knife. Then he had to pass an ‘exam’ which allows him to use his knife when he is at the scouts.

    Both kids know how to use the knife and the younger one showed his little sister (5 years old) how to use it. Even if it happens that they cut themselves by mistake, they are very proud to use a knife and to do artwork! I told them that they can use their knifes while sitting and doing artwork with sticks. As soon as they walk around or get angry about something they have to put it away. They know that their knife isn’t a weapon but a ustensile to work with or to fix lot of things (they now have swiss army knifes with lots of things on it you can use in daily life).

  18. Sandra H. October 1, 2013 at 4:34 am #

    It was many years ago in a paper newspaper, but I remember reading a story about a girl who lived way off-grid with her parents. She wasn’t quite this cool, but they lived in a cabin in the forest and her clothes and shoes were made of animals they’d trapped.

    Nonetheless, she went to a nearby public school. Carrying, of course, that essential outdoor survival aid, a large hunting knife she’d had for years and would entertain the other kids during recess with her skills.

    Anyway, for some reason this came to administration attention (my memory is fuzzy; perhaps she’d graduated to middle school with different administration?) as a violation of a rule on bringing weapons to school.

    But in this case, after a brief kerfuffle and some questions as to whether it was reasonable for her to leave it at home (no; it was both too personal and too necessary for the foraging and trap-checking she did on the way back home), and finding that she was both skilled and careful enough with it to avoid injury, the school figured that it was more of a necessary tool more than a weapon and was, in her case, permitted.

    I can see why such a special case would get more careful review than most, but I remember that it was just an “interesting” news story, not one where the reporter engaged in worst-first panicking.

  19. Jenna K. October 1, 2013 at 11:03 am #

    I want to get my boys each a pocket knife for Christmas or birthday gifts so they can have them and be prepared, but then I realize that they won’t ever be allowed to use them, so why waste the money?

  20. Jenna K. October 1, 2013 at 11:05 am #

    I submitted my comment too early…one of my boys had his pocket knife at school about a month ago because he wanted to cut the blades of grass at recess. He was caught and sent to the principal’s office. They wouldn’t let him leave the office until I came in and took the knife. When I found out why he was “in trouble”, I was seriously annoyed. I keep a pocket knife in my purse in case I ever need it and you’d be surprised when it comes in handy.

  21. Angela Hanscom October 1, 2013 at 1:10 pm #

    This is exactly why we are starting the TimberNook movement! For adults to step back and empower the children. At our camps, children are able to whittle their own cooking sticks, help build fires, climb trees, make bow and arrows, and play for hours in the woods without direct adult supervision. It is time things change – TimberNook will become one more tool to do this! Thank you Lenore for inspiring so many!

  22. Sertorius October 3, 2013 at 12:25 am #

    This camp needs to be named and shamed.

  23. Hellen October 8, 2013 at 2:09 pm #

    This is completely absurd. It’s an art camp. What do they think artist use to create their art. They need xacto blades, matt knives, chisels, palette knives, and a whole bunch of other tools that will harm them, yes, but they need to learn how to use them. I went to art school and after a safety talk we had to use power tools like the table saw, rotary sanders, bandsaws etc. and this was for all students it didn’t matter if you were going to be a graphic designer or sculptor or industrial designer.