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Boundaries Aren’t Mean. They Keep Us Safe

Article By Brooklyn Raney, Guest Expert and author of the book One Trusted Adult.

5 Minute Read 

In my many interviews with adults and young people about their trusted adults, I have heard the following phrases repeated:


My trusted adult . . .

“was always there for me.”

“was fair and predictable.”

“was invested in my success.”

“knew me and noticed me.”

“always made me feel safe.”

“challenged me when I needed it, and celebrated me when I deserved it.”


Using this data, my team and I were able to classify trusted adult qualities into three critical categories we call the ABCs: Accessible, Boundaried, and Caring. Being accessible and caring is pretty straightforward and intuitive for most parents and youth-serving professionals, but we see the need for conversation where boundaries meet being accessible and caring. 


Accessible without boundaries can sound like, “My door is always open. I am always available.”


Accessible with boundaries sounds like, “Here are the times I am available, and this is the best way to schedule time with me.” And then showing up as promised and staying fully present in that time together.


See the difference? Let’s try it with caring:


Caring without boundaries can sound like, “I will do anything for you.”


Caring with boundaries sounds like, “I will do what I can to support you.” And then showing up as promised and doing what you can within the limits of your profession and expertise to support that student. As a parent, it means showing up as promised and doing what you can to support your child in her efforts without doing things for her.


It is this mindful practice of healthy and appropriate boundaries which allows our good work to be sustainable. In other words, it is in the overlap of accessible with boundaries and caring with boundaries that we beat burnout! Conveniently, it is also where we build trust. 


I repeat . . . it is in boundaried accessibility and boundaried caring where we beat burnout and build trust! 


Boundaries are an act of self-care because they create safety. They are also an act of communal care because they create safety within the community too. When we shift the conversation within our workplaces, communities, and homes to boundaries as an act of safety, rather than permitting them to be labeled as mean or selfish, we are taking important steps toward creating healthy environments where all can thrive —young and old. 

Brooklyn's "One Trusted Adult" Tip:


At my company, One Trusted Adult, we use a mapping tool to discuss the ABCs with youth. Start by labeling the positives of being accessible and caring, then the negatives of being too accessible and too caring. Then shift to boundaries: list the positives of staying boundaried, and then the negatives of being too boundaried. From there, you can discuss the action steps needed for everyone to feel comfortable voicing their boundaries and the early warning signs you might see if anyone has gone too far in either direction. Having these conversations up front is a giant trust-building exercise that benefits everyone.


Brooklyn is the Founder and Lead Trainer of One Trusted Adult, an organization that provides programming for educators, parents and young people, to ensure that every young person has at least one trusted adult.


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