Am I Oversharing?

Part I: Questions To Ask Before Show and Tell

Hey, kids, gather ‘round. Let me tell you what I did on my night off, how far my romance has gone, and what I really think about the camp director. I can also explain those marks on my wrists from that time I was really depressed, and can advise you on which perfumes and colognes turn on the opposite sex.

Your young staff needs some coaching in what is appropriate to say, do and share with campers. © Can Stock Photo Inc./Goodluz

Or not.

Preserving professional boundaries can be difficult for camp staff members because they are assigned dual roles.

On the one hand, they must nurture close, trusting relationships with the children they serve.

On the other hand, staff members must enforce rules and deliver appropriate consequences for misbehavior.

Like a parent, a skilled staff member must be part friend, part policeman. Youthful inexperience is most obvious when staff fails to strike an authoritative balance and either overshare or underdiscipline.

Too Chummy To Be In Charge

I understand that children love camp staff members because they are cool. Compared to most parents, staff members better understand pop culture, have more time and energy to play, are better actors and athletes, and definitely act goofier.

This youthful exuberance is charming—even alluring—but it becomes toxic when staff members lose sight of their fiduciary responsibility.

A fiduciary is someone who has accepted the trust or confidence of a beneficiary (in this case, a child). Fiduciaries understand that they possess power the beneficiary does not. Therefore, fiduciaries have a responsibility to act in the beneficiary’s best interests. To do otherwise could be neglectful or abusive.

In non-legalese, here is the scoop: The covenant between camp staff members and children is that staff members agree to act in children’s best interests.

This model of servant leadership sounds great on paper, but in a small group setting, apart from the camp’s senior staff members, it’s easy for a lone counselor or cabin leader to take the bait when goaded by his or her charges:

  • “Tell us what you did on your night off! I bet it was sooooo fun.”
  • “What are the parties like in college? Please tell us!”
  • “We promise to keep it a secret if you tell us about your boyfriend.”
  • “Why do you always say that the unit leaders can’t find their way out of a paper bag?

Staff members who self-disclose adult themes and salacious content always experience a short-term bump in the polls. (“My counselor is soooooo cool.”)

Rarely do they consider how unsafe a “boundary-less” world starts to feel to children. Instead, staff is rapidly reinforced by smiles and laughter and prompted to share more.

And although many high-school-age and college-age staff members know where to draw the line, many more people cross it, sometimes unwittingly.

Crossing The Line

Senior staff members must therefore anticipate the temptation that less-experienced staff members have to “overshare”—physically, emotionally, and verbally.

Moreover, the underdeveloped frontal lobes of those young staff members add an impulsive variable to the professional-boundary equation. Hence, senior staff members must illustrate the consequences that junior staff members don’t always see. And there’s plenty they don’t see.

Take, for example, the male resident camp counselor who is suddenly inspired while changing out of his bathing suit before lunch. He tucks his penis and testicles between his legs, turns to his campers and hollers “Hey, guys, check out my mangina!”

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  2. Continuous Professional Development
  3. For Juniors’ Sake
  4. Breaking Through
  5. Universal Vulnerabilities
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