Were you a single child or did you come from a big family? Were you raised religious? What culture does your family identify with? Were you raised in the city, suburbs, or country? What was your family like? What was your experience of school as an adolescent? What is your political orientation? What is your educational background? What do you value most about your friendships? Why did you pick your partner(s)?
These may seem like some pretty intimate questions. But they have a purpose. When we are working with other people, especially when we are responding to their mental and behavioral health, it is imperative that we introspect to understand ourselves and our values. Why? Because this influences how we see and work with other people.
Take some time to consider some of those questions above. Think about how you were raised. Think
about how your actions communicate what you believe in. Look at the things you invest your time and
effort in. What do those things say about how you view the world? Remember that our students are coming to our programs from many different backgrounds, each with their own ways of viewing the world.
Investigate your gut feelings as they come up as you read the following scenarios. Where do those come
from? How do you respond to the individual? How is your response shaped by your lived experience or
A fifteen-year-old student Valeria tells you, a camp counselor at a Catholic summer program,
that she smoked weed once, but says, “It was fine and wasn’t even that cool, plus I am way
smarter than to get hooked on anything.” She suddenly realizes her disclosure, gets wide-eyed,
then says, “You’re not like going to call my parents are you!?”
Leigh, a 16-year-old female who is openly bisexual, reveals to you that she is actually really
afraid of the dark and has night terrors. This is the third night of a backcountry backpacking trip. She tells you that she didn’t sleep at all the first two nights out of fear. And you can tell she
looks exhausted. You ask what could help quell her fears and keep her on the trip, which she is
otherwise enjoying. She says switching tents to be with Dirk, with who she has made the start of
a solid friendship, would help because she feels she can confide in him and feel supported.
You’re working on a long immersion summer program. It’s two weeks in and Ben, an 18-year-old
Jewish soon-to-be college freshman with an academic scholarship to a private university, reveals
to you that he actually has been planning on dropping out of college already. Instead, he is
seriously considering going to Israel to fulfill the conscription, the mandatory obligation for all
Israeli citizens 18 and over to serve in the military.
Li Jie is a 15-year-old student at your program. He seems to really be a natural athlete at
basketball; he seems so joyful and powerful on the court. You ask him what position he plays on
his team at school. He replies that although he would really love to, he doesn’t have time. You
ask how does a 15-year-old not have time to play sports!? He responds that his parents want
him to focus on his studies and spend his time on things more meaningful to his future, which is
How did that go for you? Did you find sometimes when what you wanted to say or do might not be in
the best interest of the student? How can you tell what would be in their best interest? Could you
identify some themes of what you value that you had not considered before?
If you haven’t yet, consider the values of your organization. How do your personal values and world
view align, or not, with your organization? How will your organization’s values and policies influence the
students in the scenarios above? Will your organization’s values and policies require you to react to one
of the students in a way you don’t agree with?
There are no right or wrong answers here. This is ethics. When thinking about ethics in these scenarios, it is important to note what laws are relevant in the situation (e.g. mandated reporting laws), then note what organizational rules or policies are relevant (e.g. sleeping arrangement and parent notification policies). Then within that scope, consider your course of action. Is it in line with your values and world view or the best interest of the individual student? Are those different or do they align?
The point of this exercise is to examine how we bring ourselves to the table when we work with our students. It is the beauty of working in a human-centered field. We also should consider how we as staff and as a program are interacting with our students. What we value and how we see the world affects
how we treat our students. The main way we can be wrong here is by not considering that fact.