Q: [All Ages] What are some strategies for my child to set boundaries for healthy relationships early in life?
A: A path to prevention exists: educate youth about boundaries. Seem intimidating? Let’s start here:
For children 12 and under: Help them to understand that they have control over their bodies. You can use phrases like, “Your body belongs to you and only you.” Let them know they aren’t obligated to kiss or hug anyone, including family members. Likewise, they need to know that it is important to also respect the boundaries others establish. Assure young children it is never their fault if an adult or peer touches them in a way that feels uncomfortable or is inappropriate. Ask them to tell you right away if something happens. Directions like these explain boundaries and encourage children to be more assertive. This age is a great time to explore the difference between healthy and unhealthy friendships. Make it clear with your youngster that this conversation does not have an end, and they can come to you with questions at any time.
For teens, ages 13 and up: Opening the conversation with examples of healthy and unhealthy relationships often can lead to profound conversations about experiences that have occurred, either personally or within their social circles. The teen years are also a great time to begin conversations about harmful messages from media, including objectification, rape jokes or masculinity. Young men at this age need specific guidance identifying inappropriate masculine gender roles which promote aggressive or violent behavior as manly. If your teen uses a cellphone independently, stress that it is important to utilize appropriate boundaries and stress that it is illegal to send or receive explicit photos. At any age, those who master the three Ds — direct (confront a situation him or herself, ask if someone needs help), distract (cause a distraction that will diffuse the situation) and delegate (enlist help of others) — will be better prepared to help stop an assault when it is time to take action.
Dawn Foor serves as supervisor of Waymakers’ Sexual Assault Victim Services and sits on the Rape Prevention Advisory Board for the California Department of Public Health in Sacramento. Waymakers presents programs on healthy relationships in schools throughout OC. www.waymakersoc.org.