A high school student chose to share the news of her pregnancy with her youth pastor, rather than her parents. When her parents found out they were hurt that they were not the first to learn the news. And they were upset at the youth pastor for not immediately telling them after she found out.
A fine line exists for youth workers who need to carefully balance the need for maintaining confidentiality when a student shares private details about her or his life and a parent's right to know important details. Often times, it's not easy!
First, when a student is willing to share critical information with a youth worker, it is powerful evidence that the youth worker is really connecting with students, cares about them, and that they view her or him as being trustworthy. Make no mistake, confidentiality matters. And violations of confidentiality among students spread like wildfire. A youth worker who breaks confidentiality once is a youth worker that students won't trust to share anything of importance.
Secondly, most youth workers also understand a parent's need for important information about their children. They understand that confidentiality is important, but that it also has its limits.
Most youth workers get the balance right, more often than not. They know they have legal reporting obligations when kids share about harming themselves, being harmed, or others being harmed. They know not to make promises to kids that they cannot keep. They know to clarify with a student that they will have to act in the student's best interest. They know not to surprise kids when they need to share private information, and to be clear about their intentions in doing so. In a situation like teen pregnancy, they know that the parents need to learn about their daughter's situation. They will help the student to recognize the need for telling her parents, and even assist her, and provide follow-up. They will continue to provide support for the student and the parents along the journey through a challenging season of life.
The bottom line about youth ministry and confidentiality is that the issue falls under the umbrella of a partnership that must exist between parents and youth ministries. Wherever this real partnership exists, it's a source of tremendous encouragement for parents to know that a team of loving, caring, Christ-following adults is surrounding them and their kids, particularly in life's difficult moments.