How to handle boundary violations

On April 30, D2L held its very first Reddit AMA on child sexual abuse prevention in honor of Child Abuse Awareness Month. We received many great questions that will be featured in our May blog series.

QUESTION

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?

OUR ANSWER

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.

2 Responses to How to handle boundary violations

  • Sandra Fackler says:

    As for the Pinkett-Smith photo, I would make the following corrections. They are not lying in bed, they are lying on a bed. they are not side by side, He is sitting up and she is fully clothed and lying on her side facing away from him and perpendicular to him. Except for the shirtlessness of the young man, it is in no way sensual. It doesn’t appear to be a selfie, so who was taking the photo? Can you really say they were unsupervised when a third party is present. Perhaps Ms. Pinkett-Smith’s comments about the situation come because she was present and knows there was nothing sexual about the picture or the situation?

    Too often today, assumptions are made about everything seen in the news/Internet/cable when the reality is that there is NOT enough firm information to make any kind of a decision or a charge of boundary violation. The girl certainly has no sexy look on her face, she looks pensive or perhaps bored.

  • The photo was taken by a friend (http://www.tmz.com/2014/05/06/willow-smith-moises-arias-instagram-photo-in-bed/) and to our understanding, the Smith’s weren’t present. Even if they were, there are some serious boundary issues here. We are not saying that this is a sensual photo or that the two depicted are anything but friends. We are questioning boundaries.

    When is it appropriate for a 13-year old girl to lie in or on a bed next to a 20-year old man? Our point is that it is imperative for parents to teach and enforce boundaries and appropriate behaviors. Kids can’t always apply things situationally, or understand when and if there is predatory intent. This is a prime case of better safe than sorry.

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