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Concern about dance teacher's relationship with a youth.

Question: 

Dear Stop It Now!,

I, along with other parents, are concerned that a dance teacher is having an unhealthy relationship with an underage student at our dance studio.

What started as basic favoritism, has grown into a relationship that makes many uncomfortable.

  • Inside jokes (some explicit)
  • Extended time periods alone in the studio together after hours.
  • Excluding others in conversations, ignoring others at events.
  • Casual contact that feels too familiar...the teacher will touch the student’s shoulder, back, arm, when she thinks no one is looking.
  • Congratulatory hugs that last for minutes...literally.
  • The teacher is spotted driving through the students neighborhood at odd times, while trying to keep a low profile.
  • While traveling for dance events, they share a room. On two occasions, they have opted to share a bed.

The teen’s mom is aware, but the teacher is currently paying for all of the student’s dance expenses. We are not sure if she doesn’t see it or doesn’t care. I don’t know if we are imagining this, or if we should let the authorities decide.

Response: 
Please share your feedback

Dear Concerned Parent,

It’s great that there are other concerned adults taking note of this dance teacher’s behaviors, and that you’re ready to do something to help this child. No one is imagining anything, and you’ve named many Behaviors To Watch For When Adults Are With Children in the way this dance teacher is treating this student. 

Speaking Up
As we state on our tip sheet all about Signs That An Adult May Be At-Risk to Harm a Child, “You can start a conversation by pointing out harmful impacts on a child without accusing someone of abusive intentions.” I’m wondering if you and a few other parent allies would be able to approach this teacher about these concerns? You may want to share the tip sheets above with anyone else who is willing to speak up, so everyone can get on the same page.

Before approaching this dance teacher, do decide on key talking points. Think about what you’re all hoping to communicate, and whether this group is willing to have more than one conversation with this dance teacher. Though this dance teacher may feel a range of emotions during this conversation, showing them that there are many concerned adults who are willing to take action to protect this child can have a powerfully positive impact on the way this teacher behaves.

Reviewing Protective Policies 
Also, I’m curious to know if this dance studio has any policies on staff-student conduct. This may also be something you find out about before meeting with this teacher. If they do, then it’s likely that you will be able to specifically address what’s going on in terms of their policies. Our page on Questions Parents Should Ask About School Policies – though not specific to a dance studio - can give you a good idea of the kind of preventative measures you’re looking for anytime children are in the care of a youth-serving program.

These conversations are meant to both clarify boundaries and request that an adult modify unsafe behaviors. You can begin this conversation by saying something like, “We’ve noticed X, Y, and Z behaviors when you interact with this child. Please know that treating this child in this way is making them vulnerable to unsafe adults. And, any other child who noticed the way you are treating this child may also get the message that adults are allowed to treat them in these ways, too. This child obviously trusts you, but from our adult perspective the way you’ve been acting towards them doesn’t communicate trustworthiness nor safety.” And again, if you find out any of these behaviors are against studio policy, you can name that too saying, “When you do […] that’s actually against your studio policy, so we’d appreciate it if you follow program policies and not do […]

Then, communicate how they can change their behaviors. Talk about how explicit jokes from an authority figure are really concerning, and will not be tolerated anymore. These jokes set an uncomfortable precedent that adults are allowed to talk to children about sexuality in joking ways, and that simply isn’t the case. Also address how casual physical contact with this student is inappropriate. You may suggest alternatives, like giving congratulatory fist-bumps or high-fives instead of hugs, and refraining from touching all students in any way other than to give adjustments as it pertains to dance rehearsal. 

Additionally, offer suggestions which can apply to the studio as a whole. Things like, adults and students always sleep in separate beds and rooms, and rehearsals always have two or more parent chaperones when they go past 8 pm. For more information about how to prepare for and structure this talk, I’ve included our guidebook, Let’s Talk

Involving Supervisors
Another idea would be, if possible, to see if you can speak with this teacher’s supervisor (if they have one). Again, you would want to specifically name what you’re seeing, and let them know that what’s going on is crossing boundaries and isn’t safe, and, if applicable, is also breaking studio policy. Of course this would also bring up the question as to whether you and other parents feel comfortable allowing your children at this studio, when it’s clear that boundaries are being crossed. As always, do consider how the dance studio’s managers respond in situations like these – as your children’s safety is always the first priority. 

Talking to the Youth's Parent
I hear that this parent may be aware, to some degree, of what’s going on – but have you thought about speaking to her directly too? If this option feels possible, then you may want to enter into this discussion from a “same-side” point of view, and that your concerns are coming from a place of compassion – not judgement. Talk to her about what you’ve seen, and point her to our warning signs tip sheet in the second paragraph. You can even say something like – “I care about your child, and I’m worried. This teacher seems to be crossing some boundaries, and I want to make sure that you’re aware of what’s going on. I’ve seen this teacher do […]. And sometimes adults who may be a risk to a child may start to slowly cross the line with them to see if anyone will speak up and notice, but it’s also possible that this teacher may have no harmful intentions but still isn’t understanding how their behavior can put your daughter – and other youth – at risk by showing them that it’s okay for authority figures to cross the line. Though I can’t know their intention, it’s important that you’re aware so that you’re able to protect your daughter.

Ongoing Safety
Moving forward, consider talking with your own child about your family’s Safety Plan. This involves discussions about healthy sexuality, consent, respect, and the rules about appropriate behavior and privacy. You may also want to take a look at this tip sheet, Sexual Safety In Youth Sports, to help guide any conversation that you may have with your child about safety and boundaries. 

Finally, though I’m not sure the police would be able to take action at this point, it may still be helpful to keep them in the loop about what’s going on, especially if you don’t see any marked change in this teacher’s behavior after addressing it with them specifically.

I think it’s great that you’re willing to speak up and advocate for this child’s safety. You really are an ally in prevention. 

Take care,
Stop It Now!

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Last edited on: April 23rd, 2019