Carnegie Mellon University

Boundaries when Working with Minors

Boundaries are limits in what we talk about, and how we interact with others, while respecting each other’s limits. There are specific boundaries you must set when working with K–12 youth. Setting and maintaining appropriate boundaries will help to keep both you and the minor you work with safe.

On this page:

Verbal Communication

Words can be easily misinterpreted by minors.



  • Be respectful. You are modeling how respect is given.
  • Give praise. As a rule of thumb, praise publicly.
  • Remind students of the rules and consequences, but this should not be made into a spectacle.
  • Use humor. Humor is a great way to build rapport with minors, but be careful that any humor you use will not be offensive or misunderstood by others.
  • Engage in casual conversation to get to know the student.
  • Use harsh or derogatory language. Do not use any language that would embarrass or humiliate others. Do not tease or poke fun.
  • Engage in any sexually-focused conversations.
  • Discuss your personal life or problems.
  • Ask about the minor’s personal life (significant others, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, etc.).

Non-Verbal Communication

It is important to be aware of body language (eye contact, posture, sighing, etc.) and our physical interactions.



  • Make appropriate eye contact.
  • Be aware of your body language and what you may be saying through your actions.
  • Give handshakes, high-fives and gentle fist-bumps.
  • Gently pat or tap on shoulder if necessary.
  • Stick to the above appropriate ways of showing physical affection and affirmation. When in doubt, less is better.
  • Touch behind closed doors or in isolated areas.
  • Give lengthy hugs.
  • Touch on or near sexual areas of the body.
  • Hit, slap, tickle, kick, kiss, massage or carry someone.
  • Give gifts, or items that are not program-affiliated. (It is okay to give a program-affiliated pencil or pen, for example).
  • Give a gift to just one student.

Responding to Crossed Boundaries

It is normal for minors to try to cross boundaries. We must gently remind them what is and is not appropriate.



  • Inform the minor that they have crossed a boundary. Be clear about rules and what is/is not appropriate.
  • Give examples of appropriate alternatives. Explain to the student a better way of doing/saying/acting.
  • Document crossed boundaries. Talk to a teacher or parent if a student crosses a boundary that makes you uncomfortable. It may be more than just testing boundaries, and may indicate something is wrong in the minor’s personal life.
  • Recognize your role with the minor you are working with and be clear about your boundaries.
  • Ignore a situation a boundary is crossed. Tell a teacher, parent or supervisor if you are uncomfortable addressing it.

Keeping Situations Safe

  • Have at least two adults supervising activities with minors when possible.
  • Avoid one-on-one situations. 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.
  • Have adults of both sexes present in settings where children must be escorted to the bathroom. Wait outside while students use 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 between any individuals that makes you uneasy, report it.

Challenges of Social Media

Social media can include personal information that breaches healthy boundaries that we set with minors. It also can offer up information that parents are uncomfortable with, and allow direct communication that exceeds the bounds of the work you do together.



  • Keep all communications focused on the task at hand.
  • Communicate to the entire group, when possible, instead of individual students.
  • Copy parents on all messages sent to students.
  • Inform the CMU program staff immediately if you receive any inappropriate, worrisome or strange communication from a student.
  • Tell the students that you are happy to work with them, but will not be accepting friend requests on social media.
  • Use your personal accounts on social networking to communicate with students, or send or accept friend requests to or from minors.
  • Send private messages to students.
  • Give your cell phone number to students.
  • Share details about your personal life.
  • Take photographs for personal use, or for purposes unrelated to the program.

Note for Overnight Hosts:

It might seem logical to share your phone number with a high school student. Be careful about accepting private calls from the student after the admissions event is over AND be careful about inadvertently selecting an incorrect number and texting inappropriate messages to a minor.