Watch Out For One Another

Part III: How staff members can help each other observe professional boundaries

When you see something, say something — in a kind and professional way. © Can Stock Photo Inc. / diego_cervo

In Parts I and II of this article series on maintaining professional boundaries with youth, I introduced the concept of a fiduciary, and revealed the vulnerabilities that tempt adults to cross boundaries.

When you are comfortable with the concept of a fiduciary and fluent in the vulnerabilities that make us human (and therefore sometimes dangerous), you are ready to stabilize your proficiency with peer support.

In Part III, I’ll explain the ways in which staff members can support one another in observing professional boundaries and, in so doing, maintain the highest standards of leadership.

Because we all share the same vulnerabilities, we also share a responsibility to keep one another in check. Part of that responsibility–keeping young people’s best interests a priority—is giving adult peers feedback on the job they are doing. Equally important is being receptive to others’ feedback on our own professional conduct.

Boundary Blind Spots

When boundary crossings make the news, the transgressor often admits that what he or she did was wrong. Equally so, that person’s closest friends express incredulity. We are as likely to hear “I made a mistake” as we are “How could this person do such a thing?”

When adults get caught playing favorites, making exceptions, breaking rules, or behaving inappropriately with young people, they have a sudden and sobering insight into their poor judgment. But it’s too late. Whatever damage has been done to the adult-child relationship has been done.

Sure, we can own our mistakes and we can make amends, but it’s always better if we can avoid making mistakes with young people in the first place. But after careful hiring and thoughtful training, how is it that staff members still stumble?

The answer is that smart people make poor choices because of feelings. The very thing that bonds us to young people in healthy ways also clouds our judgment. When emotions are involved, people—especially college-age staff, without their own children—may not see their personal lapses.

For that reason, peer support of professional boundaries is essential. Sure, inexperience also plays a role in most garden-variety errors, but boundary crossings are almost always fueled by emotion.

Homeland Security

After 9/11, airports and other public venues posted a huge amount of signage, the most influential of which was “If you see something, say something.” The signs are designed to increase patrons’ awareness of behavior that doesn’t seem quite right: bags left alone, strangers asking you to carry something, people looking nervous and unkempt.

Because these are potentially dangerous, the public has been encouraged to report such suspicious behavior to law enforcement.

Happily, camp is a venue free of serious violence and evil plots, but nevertheless unprofessional behavior may occur. Some staff members return to camp intoxicated from nights off; others unwittingly condone bullying through neglect; still others dote on the most attractive or athletic children; some members become too physically rough or affectionate with children; and a few employees say or do downright hurtful and inappropriate things with campers.

It’s uncomfortable to talk about this reality, but it’s worse to witness it. Better that we talk now in order to prevent problems later.

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Related posts:

  1. Universal Vulnerabilities
  2. Am I Oversharing?
  3. Kids’ Big Fears, Part II
  4. Continuous Professional Development
  5. For Juniors’ Sake
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