“Oh, excuse me, I didn’t know you were meeting with someone in here.”
(Later that day)
“I don’t know what happened: She was crying, and the next minute she was sobbing in my arms, with her face buried in my chest!”
“Uh…yeah…I noticed that when I walked in on the two of you.”
These are true conversations from the Intern Island. Here’s the thing: It doesn’t matter that nothing happened. You have no one to corroborate that story but you. You must put safeguards into place—protecting you and protecting the students—but more than that, protecting the ministry legacy God is building around you. Some strategies I’ve employed over the years to keep me above reproach might help you.
As much as it depends on you, never counsel students alone—regardless of gender. I know kids don’t want their stuff splattered all over the world for everyone to hear (unless THEY are the ones posting it on Facebook!). But you can meet in public and still be private. If you don’t have a trusted adult that can sit in with you while you talk with a student, have an unobstructed window into your office or counseling area. Leave your door cracked, and make sure someone is within earshot. Meet in a public place.
Never drive kids home alone. If you cannot make a plan to ensure this, don’t drive kids. Period. Unless there is a witness from the time a young person is in your vehicle until the time they’re not, any accusation could be made against you—and you would have no defense. Kids will make a way to get where they want to go; don’t jeopardize your integrity for a ride.
Keep your hands to yourself. There are ways to communicate that kids matter to you without groping them. Give them the age-old “side hug.” High five. Fist bump. Spit on them for all I care. Just keep your hands (and other parts) in the right places, all the time, no matter what. Yes, I’ve had those kids who fling themselves at me with a full-on, unavoidable frontal hug. Get them off of you ASAP. Enlist an interceptor, and pay attention to when that’s coming and get into position. And yes, I’ve also had kids who were in severe pain and needed a full, true hug as they wept. And because I don’t counsel alone, I had someone there verifying my every move.
Don’t date the kids. I don’t care how young you are and how old or mature they are. Your position prohibits it—period. Your relationship with that one student (even if not inappropriate) will call into question every other relationship you have with every other student. If God’s intended is in your student ministry, they will still be your intended years after you or they have retired from said ministry.
Trust your instincts. In ministry, you’ll come across kids that you just don’t feel safe around. Trust that; it might be the Holy Spirit protecting you. Over the years, there have been some kids I just knew that if I found myself alone with them, I had to get out and away as fast as possible. They’re unstable, unpredictable, and dysfunctional. I need to pastor them from a safe distance.
You’ve been given a weighty, holy responsibility, intern. And while we can’t always anticipate every false accusation or problem scenario, it is incumbent upon us to put safeguards into place. We’re guarding the innocence and emotions of our students. We’re guarding our hearts and the hearts of our families. We’re guarding the ministry God has entrusted to us.
Join us for the next episode of Intern Island: Fight, Bleed, and Die.
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