Carnegie Mellon University
Safe Boundaries

 Working with Minors:

Boundaries & Confidentiality Manual

See below and also here: Boundary Training

Table of Contents


  1. Boundaries & why we need them
  2. Verbal communication
  3. Physical communication
  4. Technology and social media use
  5. Keeping situations safe
  6. How to report inappropriate behavior (Mandated reporting, other incidents)
  7. Responding to crossed boundaries
  8. Confidentiality
  9. Scenarios


1.               Boundaries

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, “That’s not appropriate for class,” or “This isn’t something we talk about during tutoring.”  Then quickly move on.


2.               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 students’ personal life (significant others, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, etc…)
  • Do not forge relationships outside of tutoring.


 3.               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).


4.               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.

 Make sure that you use age appropriate forms of communication. For example, when working with young students, all written communication should be sent to their parents or teachers, and not to the students themselves. If you use electronic forms of communication, ensure that parents are included on the message. For example, if you send an email to a student, make sure that the parent or teacher is cc’d on the message. Social media such as twitter, Facebook and Instagram should not be used as forms of communication with students.

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).


    • Tell parents/teachers how you plan to communicate with students and encourage them to be on any email distribution list
    • Keep all communications focused on tutoring and learning
    • When appropriate, communicate to the entire group, instead of individual students
    • Copy parents on all messages sent to students
    • Keep copies of all communications
    • Inform the supervising teacher immediately if you receive any inappropriate communication from a student
    • It’s okay to let students know that while you’re happy to work with them and to get to know them, that as a tutor, you won’t be accepting friend requests on social media

Do Not

    • Use your personal accounts on social networking, to communicate with students
    • Use technology to “chat” with students
    • Send private messages to individual students
    • Give your cell-phone number to students
    • Share details about your personal life
    • Friend, or accept friend requests from students


 5.               Keeping Situations Safe

  • It is always best to have at least two tutors supervising activities with students.
  • If you must be alone with a student, make sure you are working in a public setting.  If you are in a classroom with a single student, leave the door open.
  • It’s a good idea to have tutors of both sexes present in settings where young children must be escorted to the bathroom. (If a situation occurs where you must enter the bathroom, avoid being alone with a student in the bathroom.)
  • If you see something that makes you uneasy between another tutor and student, or two students, report it.


6.               How to Report any Inappropriate Behavior                

Determine whether what you’ve observed/heard is child abuse, or simply an issue that needs to be addressed. (Consult mandated reporter training.) If child abuse, you must directly report.


  • Inform your supervisor of any concerns that you might have
  • Forward any inappropriate emails to your supervisor; record any in-person inappropriate behaviors, and report them to your supervisor.
  • If you suspect a child is being abused, you must report it to the proper authorities. (As an adult working with children, you are a court-mandated reporter.)


7.               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 she has 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.


8.                 Confidentiality

It is important that you do not discuss your student’s personal information with anyone except the teacher or group leader. Personal information may range from socioeconomic status, embarrassing stories, grades, disciplinary reports, or family struggles. However, working with students makes us mandatory reporters. If a student expresses s/he has been abused, or is in harm’s way, you must alert Childline (717- 783-8744) AND the university through campus police, the Office of the General Counsel, or your supervisor. As an adult working with minors, you are legally obligated to report anything that might indicate child abuse. For non-child abuse related incidents, discuss with the teacher, principal or coordinator. You should report all conduct violations that do not fall under a violation of state or national laws to the Office of the General Counsel, or Assistant Vice Provost for Educational Outreach, Judith Hallinen at 412-268-1498.


9.               Test Your Knowledge

Read through these scenarios, and choose the best possible answer, with the information you just learned.

Scenario #1:

A tutor, Sara, met a really nice guy over the weekend, who’s been texting with her all day. During one of her tutoring session, he sends her a text asking her to dinner. She spends a long time trying to decide what to say back.  It’s okay, because for the most part, her student is just finishing up homework.  She notices the student is looking at her, and apologizes. She puts her phone away, says, “It’s just that I met a really cute guy at a party on Saturday. I’m really nervous about going on a date with him. I don’t even know what I’d wear. Let’s get back to math, now. ” Based on this information, what has Sarah done wrong?

A) Sarah should not be texting while tutoring. It is distracting to both tutor and tutee, and is unprofessional.
B) Sarah shouldn’t share her personal information with the student. Texting is fine, as long as it’s done when the student is working.
C) None of the above.
D) Both (A) and (B)

Scenario #2:

Your student is frustrated with the homework. You encourage him to keep working at the problem, that he’s close to solving it. He stands up and calls you a name in front of the entire class.  What do you do?

A) Call him a name back. See if he can take what he dishes out.
B) Sternly explain the behavior is unacceptable, and let his teacher know what happened. Then get back to work.
C) Yell at him to get his attention, then, in front of the class, explain the consequences (no recess, etc.) so everyone knows.
D) Ignore it. It’s not that big of a deal.

Scenario #3:

The 12th grade student you are tutoring (Tim) leaves you a note at the end of the day. On it is a list of accomplishments he wishes to achieve, including Do homework, Beat level in Grand Theft Auto, and Stare menacingly at Ms. Jane (you) until she cries. What do you do with this note?

A) In an empty room, with the door shut for privacy, ask Tim to explain the note.
B) Bring it up at the next session in front of everyone, so that it can be a lesson to all students not to write these types of notes.
C) Give the note to his teacher, and discuss with both teacher and your supervisor to figure out what to do next.
D) Call ChildLine to report this.

Scenario #4:

An 8th grade student has attended an off-campus event with other tutors and tutees, and at the end of the event, informs you that she does not have a ride. It is late in the evening, and she does not live in a safe neighborhood.  She asks you for a ride home.  Is it okay to take her, under these circumstances?  Yes or no, and why?

Scenario #5:

A middle school student that you tutor confides in you that her older cousin’s friend, who’s 20 yrs old, has been “creepy and uncool” lately. She says that he buys her gifts a lot, and has asked her to ‘hang out’ with him alone at his apartment. So far, she’s always said no, and nothing has happened. What do you do? 

Scenario #6:

You are hosting a workshop for eight 10-yr old kids on Saturday on campus, but your group leader, who is in charge of the event and is the only person to have clearances, texts to say she cannot make it. The first child has just pulled up with his parent. What should your group do?

  1. Cancel immediately. Otherwise, legally, you are putting children at risk.
  1. Continue the event, but keep everything in public space with lots of onlookers and ask if some of the parents would like to stay to help out.
  2. Call a friend who works with kids and who says she has all of her clearances.
  3. The odds of anything bad happening are slim. You know and trust everyone, so go ahead this one time, and be sure you have more than one cleared member in the future.


Answers to Scenarios

Scenario #1

The answer is D, both A and B. Tutors should not be sending or answering personal texts while tutoring. (An exception would be a text from a coworker or supervisor.) Sarah also should not tell her student ANY personal information regarding romantic relationships.  This response violates important boundaries between tutor and student. 

Scenario #2

The answer is B. Tell him to join you in the hallway, and if there is a supervisor on site, also ask her/him to join you, too. Explain that the behavior is unacceptable, and that there will be consequences. Also allow the student to voice any concerns or problems outside of the tutoring session that he is facing. Explain that if he’s frustrated and cannot go on, that he needs to express this to you in an adult manner.  That way, you understand what he needs. Yelling back would place you at the same level as the child, which is never helpful in authority situations. Keep calm, but be firm. (You don’t need to make an example of him. The other students should already know what’s expected of them, and they understand that being taken into the hall often indicates further consequences.) Be sure that each day is a new start to building your tutor/tutee relationship, so as an adult, even if what a student says is hurtful, you cannot hold grudges.        

Scenario #3

The answer is C. You must show the note to the teacher/ supervisor, and they will decide what to do about it. It’s difficult to say why the student wrote the note, and is important for the teacher/supervisor to know about because it could indicate a more serious problem in the student’s personal life that the school must know about, or a safety issue for the student or others.

Scenario #4

The answer is NO.  Tutors and tutees have very different interpersonal boundaries than you and friends & family. As a tutor, you do not have clearance to transport students. The best thing to do is to talk to your supervisor. You can also offer support, and let the student know that you and your supervisor will make sure that she gets home safely. Advanced planning would ensure that the end of event plan has been established. This plan would take the following scenario into account, and prepare for a safe solution.

Scenario #5

In this scenario, unfortunately, there is not much that you can report to ChildLine, since the cousin’s friends has not yet done anything illegal. Let your supervisor and this child’s parents know about the situation so that they can work to protect your tutee. 

Scenario #6

Even though it seems okay to let things slide this one time, you must be vigilant about following protocol. It’s against the law and CMU policy to hold a CMU-affiliated daytime event without having at least one member cleared per every ten students (as per ratio protocol in the Code of Conduct.) It may seem drastic to cancel the event, but you must do so in circumstances where another registered, clearance member of your group cannot attend.