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Guidance for virtual youth programs

Virtual interactions can allow youth programs to reach to wider audiences and engage participants in creative and effective ways. However, online interactions pose new and different risks to youth which must be considered in program design and implementation. 

This guidance supports youth programs in strengthening safety for youth while delivering high-quality virtual programs that comply with University policies. Programs must follow the guidance below, except where provisions are specifically cited as “encouraged.”

Program planning guidance

On August 26, 2020 the UW Privacy Office issued Privacy Guidelines for Engaging Youth Online, which outlines allowable use of technology with youth. Youth programs must use this guidance to understand what UW technologies are available to them based on the types of interactions they are having with youth and the current licensing agreements in place. The Engaging youth virtually FAQs provide additional information about specific UW technologies, including Canvas, G Suite, Microsoft Office 365, Panopto, and Zoom.

In addition to the above, programs should also understand and abide by:

Select communication platforms to use with participants.

Use only communication tools that adhere to the Privacy Guidelines for Engaging Youth Online. See the Engaging youth virtually FAQs for examples of allowable use cases for various youth-involved activities. 

Using Zoom safely with youth

Additionally, select platforms that prevent private, unmonitored interactions. Examples include:

  • Shared email addresses accessible by multiple personnel
  • Messaging services that do not require staff to use personal phone numbers or email addresses
  • Program sponsored social media profiles

Research and enable security features.

Choose technology with security features to strengthen safety and enable them whenever possible. Examples of these features include those that prevent unauthorized people from accessing content or engaging youth, or that limit unmonitored peer-to-peer sharing or chatting. 

Provide notice and solicit consent for certain activities.

As detailed in the Privacy Policy for UW Youth Programs, prior consent is required before “sending communications relating to announcements, assignments, logistics, mentoring, or similar matters to participants who are under 13 years of age during a UW Youth Program.”

  • If consent is not given, alternative options include sending communications through the participant’s parent/guardian, making assignments or logistics visible online, or sending them in paper form.
  • If consent is given, we still encourage including parents/guardians in communications with participants under age 13. One option is to send communication to a youth on an account to which their parent/guardian also has access.

Design program activities to eliminate private, unmonitored 1:1 interactions.

Avoid one-on-one interactions by abiding by the Rule of 3: have either 2 adults present with one or more youth, or at least 2 youth present with an adult in all your program spaces, in-person or virtual. This includes each breakout room in platforms like Zoom. Learn more about using Zoom safely with youth. 

Design and schedule activities to keep youth actively engaged throughout the program.

Keeping youth engaged limits the likelihood of them accessing other content online and ensures they get the most from your program. We encourage reviewing best practices for running engaging online programming, including: 

Update participant conduct codes.

Update existing participant codes of conduct by integrating online safety and conduct expectations, or create a new online-specific code of conduct. See our templates for participant conduct codes, including new versions with specific reference to virtual interactions.

Integrate online conduct expectations into your existing staff conduct code.

See our templates for staff conduct codes, including a new addendum for virtual interactions. 

Address program-specific considerations in your staff training.

Topics to consider addressing include:

  • What do 1:1 interactions look like in an online environment? How are they different from in-person interactions? What additional risks do they pose? What additional preparations need to be made to ensure 1:1 interactions do not happen?
  • How can staff set and maintain appropriate boundaries online? For example, communicate your ‘on’ hours to participants and their families and strictly avoid ‘off-hours’ contact. 
  • The importance of using official University accounts at all times for program activities and communicating with participants. What might be challenging about using shared accounts and how can you overcome those challenges to ensure transparency youth safety?

Actively monitor virtual interactions and address conduct code violations.

  • Have ongoing conversations with all program staff about how the program is running, including virtual interactions. Solicit and address any group concerns.
  • Monitor communication between program staff and participants to ensure safe and appropriate interactions. Immediately address any concerning behaviors or violations of the conduct code. A Sample monitoring checklist is available in PDF.  

Clearly communicate to parents about the technology you are using and how youth will interact with them, and encourage parents to discuss online safety with their children. 

Solicit consent for participation in online youth programming. Provide details about how, when and by what means youth will be interacting virtually with your program. See the Privacy Guidelines for Engaging Youth Online and Engaging youth virtually FAQs for assistance.

Convey that parents are responsible for monitoring their child’s online experience and that program staff are not able to monitor this with distance learning. Encourage parents/guardians to be present in the room with participants during online engagement or programming. 

Share any resources, including those below, that may assist parents in supporting their youth and achieve successful participation in the program.


When possible, use University-sponsored technologies. UW-IT Connect lists all available technologies and any use restrictions or limitations currently in place. The Engaging youth virtually FAQs list parameters of use with youth for Zoom, G Suite, Microsoft Office 365, Panopto and Canvas. An additional Zoom safety webpage can be found here

If using a non-UW technology, first ensure it does not conflict with UW-IT’s licensing restrictions: see the Engaging youth virtually FAQs for guidance. All technology should be appropriate for use with your age group, and  provide the protections noted above.