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New to our New Volunteer Orientation Handouts is an information sheet on Working with Minors from Carnegie Mellon University Child Protection Training. Please read on for more information on this topic.

Boundaries are limits in what we talk about, and how we interact with others respecting our and their limits. Boundaries are necessary for normal and healthy interpersonal relationships. Different relationships require different boundaries. There are specific boundaries you must set when tutoring K-12 youth that will be safe, healthy, and most effective for tutoring. Although minors are considered to be anyone under the age of 18, it is essential to practice having good boundaries with anyone who is your mentee/tutee.

The students that you will come in contact with as your time as a tutor will want to know more about you. As a tutor/mentor, it’s important to build a solid tutor/tutee relationship, secure with proper boundaries between you and the student. The purpose of this handout is to help you understand and create healthy boundaries, to protect yourself and your relationship with students.

Students have a tendency to test boundaries, so you must know what yours are from the start, and be firm. It is okay to say, “This isn’t something we talk about during tutoring.”  Then quickly move on.

Appropriate and Inappropriate Forms of Verbal Communication

Words can be easily misinterpreted by students (as well as all of us!) Follow the guidelines listed below when speaking with students.

  • Be respectful. It’s okay to say “please” and “thank you.” You are modeling how respect is given. Avoid using harsh or derogatory language. Do not use any language that would embarrass or humiliate students. As a rule of thumb, praise publicly, and correct privately. If you are having issues with any student(s) seek help from a teacher or supervisor.
  • Humor is a great way to build rapport with students, but be careful that any humor you use will not be misunderstood or offensive. Don’t tease or poke fun.
  • Do not engage in any sexually-focused conversations.
  • Do not discuss your personal life or problems.
  • It’s great to get to know your student and what they like (sports, foods, school subjects, etc.) However, do not ask about your student’s’ personal life (significant others, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, etc.)
  • Do not forge relationships outside of tutoring.

Appropriate and Inappropriate Forms of Physical Communication

Communication via touch is natural for us, as human beings. However, there are important physical boundaries when tutoring minors that must be respected. Everyone has a different level of required “personal space”.  How we physically interact with students is very different than how we interact with family and friends. Stick to the appropriate ways of showing physical affection and affirmation.

Appropriate ways to express affection:

  • Verbal Praise
  • Handshakes
  • High-fives
  • Pats on the back or shoulder

Inappropriate ways to express affection:

  • Lengthy embraces
  • Touching in isolated areas, or behind closed doors
  • Kissing
  • Touching bottoms, chest, legs or genital areas
  • Tickling,  Wrestling,  Piggyback Rides
  • Any type of massages
  • Giving expensive gifts to students, or giving something to one student and not the rest of the students (also known as playing favorites).

Using Technology and Social Media Appropriately  

Electronic communications and social media throws us a curve ball when it comes to communicating with minors whom we teach and tutor. On the one hand, social media allows us to collaborate, quickly communicate, share school-based ideas, and learn more about the world. On the other, it can destroy important and healthy boundaries. For this portion of the session, consider social media to include email, text messaging, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and everything similar.

It is common for students to want to ‘friend’ you on various forms of social media. When working with students, it is wise to set your privacy settings to the most secure setting possible.  Do not accept friend requests on Facebook or any other forms of social media. Photos of students should never be posted on personal social media sites. In order for an organization to take photos of minors, the group must have permission (Photo Release Form).

Responding to Crossed Boundaries

It is normal for students to try to cross boundaries. We must gently remind them what is and isn’t appropriate. It’s the only way they’ll learn appropriate boundaries.

Inform the tutee that a better way of doing/saying/acting is to _______. (Often a student doesn’t fully realize they have crossed boundaries.)  For example, tell the student that you’re glad they’re excited about an activity, but instead of hugging you, a high five is a great idea.

As you get to know students, you’ll be able to better gauge which students need specific types of guidance. Never hesitate to ask the teacher or supervisor what to do. They have a lot of experience.

If a student crosses a boundary that makes you feel uncomfortable, talk to the teacher/ supervisor about it. It may be more than just testing boundaries and may indicate something is wrong in the student’s personal life.

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