I Love You and Other No-No's
Appropriate Behavior with Children and Teens
It may surprise many people to know that lawyers have conferences that they attend regularly to help them with various legal issues and processes. One topic in such a conference amazed me. The conference was entitled, “How to Sue the Church Successfully.” What may also be surprising is that no one seems to want to define what behavior is appropriate and inappropriate. The following is an attempt at putting some of this in perspective and providing church policies for us to follow.
• When you hug another person, use the “A Frame” approach. It may sound silly, but that is a hug that basically touches near the shoulders, but avoids contact with the rest of the body. A side to side hug works pretty well too. It conveys love without appearing inappropriate.
• While we are on the topic of hugging, never require someone to hug you. It sounds innocent to say, “None of you preschoolers get out of this door without a hug.” But such a statement can be misunderstood by a preschooler and anyone else for that matter. Your motive can be pure enough, but the appearance can be evil to many people. Of course, if the preschooler initiates the hug, that is fine and in that case be an “equal opportunity hugger.”
• Avoid saying, “I love you” in any way that could be misinterpreted as romantic in nature. One good way to say it is, “We love you, Ben,” or “I love all of you fifth-graders,” or “Terri and I love you.” (That last one only works if your wife’s name is Terri, by the way.) The same kind of message should be conveyed through letters, emails and text messages.
• Never allow yourself to be alone with a member of the opposite gender behind a closed door that doesn’t have a window in it—and even with a window, you need to have a very good reason to be alone in the room. Keep a desk or other piece of furniture between you and the other person, as well. Don’t let even the suspicion of evil ruin your reputation and destroy your potential in ministry.
• Don’t play “tickle games” with children. This is actually a tactic that child molesters use to cover up a child’s objections or to lead to other inappropriate touching. If you are a parent or sibling it is one thing to tickle a child, but if you are a nursery worker or a children’s teacher at church, it is not appropriate.
• Don’t take children to the restroom alone. Simply ask another adult to go in with you, or, if you can do so while protecting the child’s modesty, leave the door ajar.
• Avoid driving someone home without your spouse or another person in the car. You might be surprised at how difficult this might be to explain others. If you are stuck in such a situation, call someone on the phone while you are driving so you can have them “in the car with you” at least electronically.
• Do not usurp the authority of a child’s parents. If you go behind a parent’s back and give a gift to a minor, it can easily be taken as inappropriate. Swearing a minor to keep a secret from his parents is never a good idea. If you cannot say it to the parents, don’t say it to the child. If you do ever see a parent neglect or abuse a child, you are legally obligated to report it to the appropriate authorities.
Because crimes against minors are so publicized in our society, even the appearance of evil must be avoided in the church. 1 Thessalonians 5:22 states, “Abstain from every appearance of evil.” That is why it is so important for us to have some common-sense policies in place when working with children (and even adults) while at church. Just the accusation can cause great damage to our work for Christ, whether it is true or not. Just to clarify, these are not just suggestions! These are policies of our church and each of us are legally and morally responsible to follow them.
Dave Frasure is CABA's Diciple-making Catalyst and pastors FBC South Lebanon, Ohio