ParentLine

Dear ParentLine,

Our 17-year-old daughter has been crossing the line with her coach.  She calls him by his first name and apparently kissed him on the lips once.  They have “talks” apparently about personal issues, and she has his number programmed into her cell phone.  While this coach is only in his mid-20s, we think that it’s highly inappropriate that he lead her on like this and that he hasn’t kept his distance from her and maintained a proper coach-student relationship.  What should we do?  Should we confront him?  The school? We’ve tried to talk with our daughter about it but she won’t stop insisting that they’re just “friends,” which is also inappropriate, don’t you think?  Please help! 

Signed, Mr. & Mrs. G, in Southern NH.

 

It’s time to blow the whistle, bench your daughter and call a “foul!” on both teams.   As the “ref” in your daughter’s life, step in and re-direct her attention ASAP. Its one thing for her to learn to pass a football but quite another to make a pass at a teacher or for the teacher to make a pass at her.  In this case, neither action by either player is “cricket.”

As you’re aware, it takes two to play singles ping-pong.  Where there are things that can be done if the coach has blurred the lines of appropriate teacher-student relationship, your first job is to be clear and consistent about the rules you expect her to play by whether at home or out in the great wide wonderful.  The red flag on the field here is the unfortunate news that she’s kissed a teacher. Her behavior is way out-of-bounds!

It’s a dangerous game your daughter is playing.

Susan Swanwick, LICSW and Child and Family Services family therapist advises that to confront the coach may not work as he could deny any wrong-doing, especially if his job is at stake.  Rather, she observes, “It sounds like he’s a young coach and may need help with boundaries between him and students.”  Swanwick also suggests that you talk with school personnel—you may be well-advised to start with the guidance counselor—about what has happened.  Together, you may be able to put a stop to inappropriate interactions by this staff person.

“You and your daughter need to talk openly about what’s okay in terms of behavior and relationship with a student and her coach, teacher, or employer.  This may not be comfortable to do, but keeping the lines of communication between you and her is vital.  These are critical years for her and she needs a safe environment in which to grow, learn and develop and to not be used,” says Swanwick.

Marie Opie Williams, MA, LCMHC at Child and Family Services adds, “Be aware that your daughter is going to insist that she and the coach are just “friends,’ that she can read you like a book, and realizes that you may put a stop to this relationship which is clearly important to her.”

You may need help to figure out the reason your daughter seeks this relationship with a person who is not appropriate.  And, she may need help to learn how to set boundaries and what age-appropriate relationships look like. 

In recent times, such names like Pamela Smart, Mary Kay Letourneau, and Debra LaFave are examples of the tragedies that happen when inappropriate teacher-student relationships develop without parental intervention.  Yes, folks, it is your job and that of the school to break up this little huddle before someone is seriously hurt.

In an article titled, Getting Too Close (www.eye-net.org), Jennifer Chambers of The Detroit News points out that some teachers find themselves walking a slippery slope when it comes to their personal relationships with students. “Teachers are constantly cautioned about getting too close, yet their nature is to nurture and encourage students to grow.”  Chambers observes that the lack of clearly defined guidelines has prompted organizations like The National Education Association to find ways to advise teachers on appropriate teacher-student relationships.

In their publication Pitfalls and Potholes: A checklist for Avoiding Common Mistakes of Beginning Teachers, by Barbara Murray and Kenneth Murray, the authors offer the following check list for rookie teachers like your daughter’s coach:

  • Recognize that you are always the adult and refrain from getting too close to the students.
  • Teachers who teach younger students should exercise caution against too much touching.
  • When invited to a student’s off-school-grounds party, graciously explain the inappropriateness of such student-teacher relations.
  • When working on a school-related project like musicals, drama productions and athletic activities, engage only in social activities with students that are designed to build rapport and encourage students.  Invite other professional adults to be present during the activity.
  • Maintain an appropriate level of privacy concerning your life outside the school, especially when you interact with students and parents

If you feel a meeting with school administrators is in order, you should ask about the school’s policy with regard to student/teacher relationships.  In an article titled Student/Teacher Relationships: Where to Draw the Lines, by Anita Setnor Byer and Martin Salcedo, Esq., (www.hrtutor.com), the authors suggest the following policies and training that:

  • Summarize the conduct that school administrators expect of all school personnel   and the actions to be taken if suspicious behaviors are observed.
  • Identify the behavioral signs that indicate a child is uncomfortable with a school employee’s conduct.
  • Characterize behavioral triggers that create risks for school employees
  • List general rules of behavior that help avoid claims of misconduct
  • Recognize personality traits and motivating factors that lead to inappropriate relationships
  • Analyze actions by asking peer observations and self-policing questions that help detect potentially inappropriate behaviors
  • Describe the criminal, civil, and ethical consequences of inappropriate behaviors.

 

PARENTLINE WELCOMES YOUR QUESTIONS! 

ParentLine is a free and confidential service of Child and Family Services, a statewide, independent, nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing the well-being of children and families.  Call ParentLine, 1-800-640-6486;  write ParentLine, c/o Child and Family Services, P.O. Box 448, Manchester, NH; email parentline@cfsnh.org or visit our website at www.cfsnh.org.