Please help resolve a long-standing debate with a friend of mine who lets her bf tickle her daughter (and the kid hates it). Do you consider tickling a form of sexual abuse?
Tickling in and of itself is not abuse. From tickling to wrestling, kids often enjoy rough and tumble activities with friends and family. The key is that the boyfriend is crossing a boundary by making the child uncomfortable. Children have the right to their own bodies and should be able to say no to any unwanted touch. In this case, the mother should say something like “It looks like she’s done with this game – let’s do something else.” The something else should be a non-contact activity that respects the child’s wishes and personal boundaries. If the boyfriend ignores the request or continues to test boundaries, this is cause for concern.
From a young age, children should be taught about physical boundaries – what they are, how to respect others’, and how to understand when someone is not respecting theirs. However, for this to be effective, parents must act as a model for children by helping them enforce boundaries and removing them from questionable situations.
A good example of this is the controversy over Willow Smith, the 13-year-old daughter of Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, who was recently photographed lying in bed with a shirtless 20-year-old actor.
Reports state that the Smiths are now under investigation by child protective services. Jada had this to say: “Here’s the deal: There was nothing sexual about that picture or that situation. You guys are projecting your trash onto it and you’re acting like covert pedophiles, and that’s not cool.”
So what does this have to do with boundary violations? Quite a bit, actually. Is it possible this was a completely platonic picture taken by a friend? Absolutely. It is also possible that it’s much more than that, but we were not there at the time and may never know for sure. What we do know is that the picture shows an adult and a child engaged in an unsupervised interaction, in an inappropriate setting. There are so many boundary issues in this picture that we could make a list.
We as a society are starting to recognize these boundary violations for what they are, and are no longer staying silent on the matter. Jada Pinkett Smith’s response was counterproductive and unaware. Sexual abusers are covert – it’s their specialty. The tendency to outright dismiss concerns over a questionable situation without considering or addressing them is how many abusive situations begin and are allowed to continue.
We are not questioning the love that either the Smiths or the mother mentioned above have for their daughters. In both instances, they likely want only what is best for their children. But in both cases, actions are happening that children are not always able to understand or to interpret. This is why parents must explain, enforce, and model boundaries for their kids.
By helping them identify boundary violations and avoid inappropriate situations now, parents create a system of protection that can keep their little loved ones safe in the future.