In a few weeks I’ll begin working as an au pair in Switzerland, a job I got thanks to years of experience working with children. I’ve worked at summer camps, as a babysitter, a nanny, and an English teacher, and I’ve volunteered as a mentor, tutor, and Sunday School teacher for kids of all ages.

My wardrobe when working with kids has varied hugely based on the context. Whenever I work in a Christian or church setting, I am extra careful about what I wear because I know that there are people who are more conservative than I am in dress, and I don’t want to cause any offense.  The age of the children I’m working with also makes a huge difference. Kids five and under barely notice what their caretaker is wearing.  Some kids have stuck there grubby little hands straight down my shirt! Others say things like “Why are you boobs bigger than my mommy’s?” (How do I answer that?!).

Another factor that I take into consideration is the culture. The standard of modesty when I taught English in South Korea was different from what I was used to.  Korean dresses tended to have a high neckline and short skirt.  If I wore anything that showed any cleavage my seven- and eight-year-old students would be in uproar! “Teacher!” they would say, “Bad men will touch you!” Since there was no dress-code at my academy and I worked with all males who would never say anything about my clothes, I had almost too much freedom to wear whatever I wanted, so I’m glad my students had my back!

I am most conscious of modesty when I am working with middle school girls.  I think that middle school is the time when most people choose the path they are going to follow in life. Not necessarily a vocation or a style, but what their character is going to be.

While in university, I went to several urban middle schools for weekly mentoring programs.  The girls I encountered in these middle schools were all totally different, yet all had the same deep insecurities.  Some of them were still awkward little girls and others were beginning to look like young women.  It was important to me to be a role model to each of them and show them that they are all beautiful.  Many of them saw attention from boys as their only affirmation.  It was a real danger that they would start showing more skin to get more attention and in the end have no self-confidence apart from that attention.

As a young woman I was automatically “cool” to these girls and they paid attention not just to what I did, but what I wore.  What I ultimately wanted to communicate to them about modesty in my time as a volunteer was that it is about self-respect. You need to be able to look in the mirror and see that you are beautiful regardless of whether the opposite sex turns their heads when you walk by. “Modesty” doesn’t have to mean that you are old, frumpy, nerdy, or unattractive. It just means that you have the confidence and comfort to wear appropriate and properly fitting clothes and still feel beautiful.