Too Close for Comfort

Back when my daughters were in school, they had what Doug and I would have described as healthy relationships with all their male teachers. We were glad and grateful for these godly male teachers, and very appreciative of their expertise and teaching skills. We were delighted to have such a well qualified batch of men (and women, too) to instruct them in many subjects over the course of their Logos career.

But if we had heard that our daughters were taking their lunch in to their (male) teacher’s room to visit over the lunch hour, or seeking out the male teachers after school hours, or writing them notes expressing their great respect, or sending them chatty emails, we would have sounded the alarm. This would have been read by us as a father failure of the first order. As it was, I can very gratefully acknowledge the teachers’ work as first rate, and thank God that our daughters always maintained a friendly respectfulness to these teachers while keeping their distance. They did not hug them, share their troubles with them, ask their advice (except when it regarded an assignment), or leave notes in their boxes. That would be way too close for comfort. For this I thank God, and I am grateful to Doug for being the kind of dad who took care to cover all that fatherly territory with them so that they had no need to look elsewhere for it.

When I hear a young woman extol her male teacher, youth group leader, online teacher, or boss in an overly enthusiastic way, or if I see her following him around, or taking her lunch into his office to visit, or sending him texts, or spending too much time on his facebook, I assume that she is a needy young lady who has a father who is not paying attention to his duties. And I also assume that this man is being very foolish, whatever age he is. And if he is married, it is even worse.

Believe it or not, this is a common problem. A young unmarried woman is hungry for male leadership. If she has a boss or instructor who is providing instruction and leadership by teaching or leading, and a father who isn’t, then it is a perfect set-up for her to begin to render too much respect, and it can be a temptation for the teacher to enjoy it too much. He can be flattered at the attention and provide fatherly attention when he has no business or calling to do so. I have heard of such things happening, believe me. It is not healthy or wise, and it can lead to real troubles. I am not making this stuff up.

Wives whose husbands love to receive this kind of attention from their female students or youth group attendees or employees should make it clear that this is not acceptable. Of course it is possible that some wives are imagining this stuff. I’m speaking here of occasions when it is obvious. In such a case, a wife should be jealous of such attention and let her husband know that she does not think he should be so receptive to this kind of attention. He needs to be friendly and distant to his female students, employees, or youth-groupies.

Fathers who have daughters who are  hanging abound or bragging about how “totally awesome” their male teachers,  bosses, or youth pastors are should take it as a wake-up call. And unmarried daughters ought to be taught to save that kind of respect for their fathers and husbands. If a young lady does not have a father, she should be warned of the hazards of looking in the wrong places for fatherly attention. This world is full of snares and temptations of all kinds, and it is always an advantage to know where your vulnerabilities are.

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13 thoughts on “Too Close for Comfort

  1. Mrs. Wilson-I am so happy you pointed this out because as you say it is a very real common problem. I hope that fathers will read this article and understand how important it is that they give their daughters the right amount of fatherly attention and affection.

    I was a youth group leader through my twenties and there were plenty of times that I had to literally peel young ladies off of me. As a leader I knew too much physical contact was not appropriate, but I did not really understand what the problem was. I think you addressed this issue very well.

    Is it appropriate, and if so how, could or should a male teacher or leader let the parents know that he sees this problem with a young lady?

  2. Well said! As a single mom, I need to be (and have been) especially wary of those “too close for comfort” relationships. All too often people seem to feel that this kind of thing is appropriate or even charming; that the adult is helping the young girl out in some way. But they are not. Quite the reverse in fact.

    Thank you for voicing this.

  3. Nancy, such a needed comment. Thank you. It was all too easy for me to fall into this improper respect in my college years as an unmarried woman. My father, while a godly man, had not yet understood the importance of faithful oversight and I had not yet learned to keep my respect focused on my father. I did not realize how powerful respect can be in the life of a man, even a Christian youth leader, who may not be receiving that respect from his own wife. Even though I was seeking God and desiring to be obedient to Him in all I did, in this matter I was naive and foolish. And the consequences were quite serious. Oh, how we all need wise counsel and if God has not chosen to give it to us from our parents, He can use many others, like you, Nancy. Thank you for sharing these wise words. And may those who read, take heed.

  4. And Facebook. Facebook makes it all seem much more harmless since it isn’t private. Why, everyone can see what you’ve written and therefore it’s fine to leave cutesy and approving comments to the male teachers/leaders in the young girl’s life. Thank you for this post, Mrs. Wilson. We are always looking for more discussion and guidance in this area as we raise two little girls.

  5. He needs to be friendly and distant to his female students,

    Not just the female students. When I was teaching (I am a man), I had this 14 year old boy who needed me to jump on him with both feet to make him do his work. He followed me around like a puppy dog for the rest of the semester. In that boy’s heart, I had become a father figure, whether I wanted to be or not. With over 50 percent of American school kids in divorced homes or worse, teachers who really care about their students wind up as father and mother figures. I have never been in a high school that didn’t have one or two teachers who didn’t have a group of kids following them around like little ducklings. That teacher has become in loco parentis to that group of kids because their parents aren’t likely to give those kids the needed stability and emotional support. Until the Gospel returns to America, whether it is wise or not, that is just the way it is. If a teacher takes it personally, i.e. his or her ego gets stroked by the attention, they need to find another job. Most teachers try to help their students because no one else is doing it and their spouses understand this. It usually doesn’t take long to learn when a teacher, male or female, has crossed the line. When one considers how many high schools there are and how few cases their are of sexual misconduct, the only reason for this is God’s Mercy on America’s screwed up kids.

  6. So very very true. Thanks for posting this, Nancy!

    When I was high school age, I attended several youth groups (my family had not yet seen the light of Reformation). I clearly remember my Dad saying to me, “Honey, you can go to these groups and spend time with your friends, but don’t forget that I am your youth pastor. If you have any problems, you bring them to me….not some 40-year-old adolescent wanna-be.”

    I am so thankful for his protection in that area. I was saved from having to submit to men who had no business taking authority over me. This was very helpful to me when I got married. I was already accustomed to submitting to just one man.

  7. Mrs. Wilson,

    Could you write more? Particularly on honoring our dads and how/what are some ways we can cultivate a healthy, respectful, and loving attitude towards our dads? Any good ideas you have and/or household stories are great too.

    Thanks,
    Help!!!

  8. So true!! Thankfully, I had an awesome dad and never felt temptation to do this. I remember when I was in high school (which was 11 years ago!) there was a girl who was a little too comfortable with one of our teachers. I remember one day she came up behind him and put her arms around his neck and stood there-AND HE DIDN’T DO ANYTHING. I couldn’t believe it.

  9. When I was a newly-wed to a youth pastor, a young girl we had met at some event (not of our church or even our denomination) began to call late at night to ask my husband some urgent theological question. (There is no such thing at 11pm) The first time he was taken aback and gave some sort of answer. It was the first time something of this sort had happened to him. The second time he told her to go ask her dad. And not to call after eight. We never heard from her again. Hopefully her dad did.

  10. Mrs. Wilson, I really enjoyed reading this post as I have been faced with something similar, as the wife of a youth pastor. My husband is very aware of my thoughts and feelings when I feel that a young youth girl is getting “too close for comfort”. My question though, is, where is the line of being a spiritual father for those orphans? What do you do for the girls that don’t have a father to turn to? Should they be ignored by their youth pastor too, or is he responsible for taking that position? And, where is the line of healthy vs. unhealthy?

  11. EJ,
    A man who is a youth pastor should do the work of a pastor. And like a pastor, he should have firewalls established in his work among the women, both married and unmarried. My husband is a minister and he has many unmarried (husbandless) women in the congregation, but he does not become a spiritual husband to them. It is always a benefit for fatherless and husbandless women to be in a congregation where there is godly masculine leadership, but that leadership must stay within the group context and not become a one-on-one relationship. Many a ministry has been ship wrecked on this point through lack of wisdom. My suggestion would be for your husband to direct any needy young women to you or to another woman in the congregation who can do the one-on-one stuff.

  12. How does one approach the Father of such a child? We recently had to babysit a young girl (5th grader) in our congregation. My husband does his best to keep his distance, but the girl can be relentless. How do you address the issue in a tactful manner?

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