Appropriate Adult-Youth Boundaries

Below is a list of frequently encountered areas of concern related to appropriate adult-youth boundaries.  None of these areas always indicate a problem. In fact, when done publicly and with proper supervisor approval, many would be considered well-intentioned and positive.  However, when done without proper consideration and approval, they can be indicative of an adult or youth forming the beginnings of an inappropriate relationship.

One goal of staff training should be to clearly define safe and respectful relationships and discuss potential areas for concern as listed below.  Training should also ensure that supervisors are equipped to be on the lookout for these indicators and know when to look more closely at a situation as having potential for inappropriate boundary crossing.

  1. Social media communication with youth: Twitter, Facebook, Myspace, etc.  Creating public “group pages” is preferable to allowing adult staff to privately “friend” youth.
  1. Cell phone communication, including texting is a form of 1:1 interaction that can present issues.
  1. Outside-of-work interaction including babysitting, providing transportation, taking a youth for a soda/treat as a reward, etc.
  1. Discussing personal issues and information with youth or within earshot of youth.  This includes any subject that one would normally discuss with a same-age friend: i.e. relationships, finances, family, gossip-type information, etc.
  1. “Holding contracts” with youth.  Holding a contract with a youth means agreeing to keep a secret with a youth, however innocuous it may seem.  Example: Staff A observes Youth X taking an extra snack despite instructions that it is one snack/camper. Staff A responds by saying “It’s a good thing only I saw you, Staff B would be really mad.” Two things happen as a result. First, Staff A now has leverage with which to manipulate Youth X and Youth X now knows that Staff A is willing to operate outside the authority of the other staff.  This is one of the most common precursors to deviant behavior by adults and youth.
  1. Consistent application of authority among youth. It is human nature to relate more closely to some youth than others. However, it becomes a boundary issue when adults apply their authority inconsistently and some youth receive consideration not available to others.

content edited May 2015