Am I Oversharing?

The cabin erupts in gales of laughter, which would suggest that everyone is enjoying the show. Only on the way back from lunch do some boys start sharing their views, such as, “Yeah, that was a little creepy” and “My mom would totally freak out if she knew.”

Which, of course, she does when one of the boys writes home describing how “totally hilarious” his counselor is.

You know the rest of the story. Parent is shocked. Parent calls director. Director is shocked. Director speaks to counselor. Counselor is shocked … not by what he has done, but because the parent and director are shocked. “What’s the big deal?”

And therein lies the problem: A gap in understanding between what is appropriate among peers and what is appropriate for a fiduciary.

In this instance, the counselor was not acting in the best interests of his campers because he failed to anticipate their discomfort and the paramount importance of setting a wholesome example.

Whether his behavior was funny to many boys in the moment is beside the point. Children’s immediate reactions to adult boundary-crossings are never the litmus test of appropriateness.

What is a reliable litmus test is the following (and this is how I train staff members all over the world): Before you act, imagine that the director is sitting on one of your shoulders and the child’s parents on the other.

If you will be happy explaining your action to both parties, then please do or say what you are thinking. If you think one or both parties might disapprove, then can it.

There is no grey area here. Doubt = Don’t.

I’ve found this little test helps staff members discern the appropriate jokes, gestures, and yarns from the inappropriate ones. Before skit night, for example, I advise staff members to ask themselves, “Would I be perfectly comfortable explaining each and every gag to my boss and my parents?”

Determine What Is Appropriate

Another example involves a female staff member at day camp who surreptitiously removes her smartphone from her backpack during rest hour. One of the girls witnesses this minor rule infraction and asks to see what she’s doing.

“Nothing,” replies the young woman. “I shouldn’t even have this out.”

Now that the entire group’s interest is piqued, campers begin the disclosure campaign. “Please let us see what you have on your phone! Do you have a picture of your boyfriend? Can we text him? Is he cute?”

Eventually, the counselor gives in and the girls huddle tightly around her phone while she narrates sorority life, two brief romances, and a party shot where everyone is drinking from red Solo cups.

That night, one of the campers updates her own Facebook page with a seemingly complimentary post: “Loved seeing my counselor’s party photos today @ Camp Kenyushare. Her bf is H.O.T.”

Of course, when that post shows up on the news feed of another camper’s Facebook page—one monitored by a parent—it raises an eyebrow and prompts a phone call. Now we’re staring at that same gap in understanding between what is appropriate among peers and what is appropriate for a fiduciary.

Preserve Professional Boundaries

Directors cannot prevent all instances of impulsive oversharing. However, they can encourage their staff to preserve professional boundaries by doing more than delivering the simple admonition, “Don’t do anything stupid” or the nebulous advice, “Keep it campy.”

Heck, if those two lecturettes worked, I’d be out of a job.

Instead of vapid platitudes, I recommend that directors:

• Explain the concept of a fiduciary and describe their vision of a youth-development professional. Provide copious, specific examples of professional vs. unprofessional conduct.

• Invite some camp parents to speak with the staff about their expectations for mature caregiving. Few of your staff members are parents themselves, so it’s difficult to understand the caregiving context.

• Review some instances of inappropriate behavior and boundary-crossings from previous summers. This type of case review helps staff members see the consequences of boundary-crossings.

• Describe the litmus test of “Directors on one shoulder; Parents on the other” and ask the staff to use that test as you step through a dozen case studies that they themselves generate.

Designing training around professional boundaries is vastly superior to crossing your fingers and hoping this year’s staff won’t be as imprudent as last year’s.

The good news is that with intentional instruction, next year’s staff members will internalize your wise voice. With proper training, they’ll hear you asking, “Is this professional?” and “What might the consequences be?” and “How would this fly with directors and parents?” before the next opportunity to show and tell.

If all goes well, you won’t actually have to sit on anyone’s shoulders.

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