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| 2 minutes read

Not All Young Adults Realize They Are Adults

A TikTok video out of the Philippines has bureaucrats pontificating about potential child abuse. In the video, a teacher who appears to be in his early 20s shows off his dance moves with the caption, "When your cute student passes by, impress her."  The social media outrage response kicked in, and the Philippines Department of Education now is investigating the teacher for "insinuating a potential child abuse action."

Of course, in today's hypersensitive climate, a bureaucracy confronted with boundary violations has to be seen to take them seriously, and pontificating is part of the bureaucratic skill set. But this situation is "potential child abuse" only in the most technical sense of that term. What may be happening is a situation that I have seen very often, which is that young adults forget that they are actually adults with adult responsibilities.

Young adults often don't adjust their view of themselves when they become a chronological adult. My sister is a college psychology professor, and she often describes classroom discussions about sexual harassment. When she asks her students how to respond, they invariably repeat the mantra "tell a trusted adult." Then she points out that they are now the trusted adults.  She says that most of them sit in shocked silence, realizing for the first time that they have adult responsibilities in that situation.

This video may be the same sort of situation. A dancing TikTok video is the sort of thing that gets teenagers lots of positive attention from their peers, and most young adults would love to be the "cool dancing teacher." I wonder if at any time, this teacher's professors or employers educated him about the role that society expects of adults. Too often, we expect young adults, many of whom have been highly protected most of their lives, to just figure it out when they reach legal age.

There are two lessons here for youth-serving organizations. First, have clear and enforceable boundary guidelines and train your staff about them. We may think that a staff should know obvious boundaries, but young adults are young. They don't have the life experience that we do, and may not have ever heard what we think are obvious rules.

Second, respond appropriately to boundary violations. Avoiding litigation, contrary to popular myth, really doesn't require a hypersensitive response to every infraction. Yes, we need to take situations seriously, but "serious" doesn't mean zero tolerance or any other variation of overreaction. We don't have to deprive ourselves of a potentially good employee who can be trained just because of a minor violation. Serious violations require serious responses, but a lesser offense may just need a strong counseling session. Sometimes, a stupid video is just a stupid video.

DepEd added that as teachers and public servants, “we must always champion a safe and nurturing learning environment for children, where physical, verbal, sexual and other forms of abuse and discrimination are renounced.” In the viral TikTok video, a teacher wearing uniform dances and it captioned, “Pag dumaan ang cute na student mo, tamang pa-cute lang (when your cute student pass by, impress her.).”


youth services law, child abuse, ausburn_deborah, insights