Teaching Boundaries


"Because I said so."

I have said it a thousand times in the almost a quarter-of-a-century that I have been parenting. I was trying to teach obedience. Or maybe I was just tired of repeating myself for the umpteenth time.  Little did I know that I was making my children vulnerable to predators who would want to turn that obedience against them.

We want our children to learn to obey us, to trust us.  But in doing so, sometimes we also inadvertently teach them that they are not allowed to have personal boundaries. Think about it...how often have you given your child the impression that they should do whatever an adult wants. Whatever a teacher wants. Whatever the principal...the bishop...the babysitter says. We taught that because we believed that the people in those positions of trust would only have our child's best interest at heart.  And generally speaking...they do.  Except...when they don't.  

A couple of months ago, a teacher at my daughter's school told a student that they "had" to go into a storage closet with them to get a textbook. The student did NOT feel comfortable going into the closet with the teacher and asked if she could just wait in the hallway.  He said, "No"...she would have to go in with him and pick out the book herself. She instinctively knew that it was a bad situation, but she went in anyway.  Why?  Because she felt she had no other choice.  

This young woman has been taught that you don't disrespect your elders, your teachers...and telling him that she would not do what he was asking was akin to being disrespectful.  So despite her strong feelings of apprehension, she went.  

He made her retrieve her book from the bottom shelf in the back corner and leaned against the wall watching her as she did so. When she had the book, he informed her she should pick a different one, as that one was "tattered".  She bent over for another book. But lo and behold, this one was also not good enough.  This repeated itself 8 times until finally, he allowed her to take the last book available.  But when she attempted to leave, this teacher was blocking the only path out.  

When she asked him to move, he remained where he was and insisted that she begin having a personal conversation with him. Luckily, this young woman listened to her gut, and when he refused to move, she pushed her way past and left.  From there, she went to the school counselor and reported the incident.  The counselor reported it to the school policeman, who told the girl that since he hadn't actually broken the law, there was nothing he could do.  

There is SOOOOO much wrong with this story..... Where to begin?  

First, this incident may not have been illegal, but it was certainly unprofessional and it should have been reported to the principal, who should have warned the teacher and made sure it was put on this teacher's permanent record.  

Secondly, I would like to back up this scenario to the point where the teacher told the girl she would have to go into the storage closet with him to pick out her own book.  If she were my child, I would want her to refuse to do so.  It does not matter that this man was her teacher.  He had no right to place her in a compromising situation and her gut instincts were right on.  I would tell her that if she didn't feel comfortable in a situation that she should trust her instincts and let the chips fall where they may.  

What's he gonna do?  Get angry?  Drop her grade?  No.  He would not do a dog-gone thing.  And if he didn't get her book for her, I would expect that she go tell the principal the problem she is having in getting the teacher to get her book for her.  

Sounds good, but how do you tell your teacher that you won't do what he wants you to?  It may not be easy, but it is simple.  You simply and respectfully say, "I'd rather not" or "I'm not comfortable doing that."  No further explanation is needed. A good educator would respect those boundaries. We must teach our children that they can have safe boundaries and not let them down for anyone...regardless of their age, or the position of trust that the person holds over them.  

Now...don't get me wrong.  If my child talks in class (...and she frequently does...), or is rude or disrespectful to a teacher, she is going to be in some hot water at home.  But she must also have respect for herself and demand that her own reasonable boundaries of safety be maintained...by everyone.  

Parents can help their children discuss what safe and reasonable boundaries are, whether at school, church, a friend's house, at home, or in public. Then teach them how to maintain those boundaries when they are threatened.  Role play.  Talk through possible scenarios and polite ways they can deal with those threats.  Teach them when it's OK to stop being polite if need be. Teach them how to defend their boundaries.  

I maintain that this is the best way to not only keep them safe, but to give them confidence in the world.  They don't have to be paranoid about the people they are around when they know that they have control over themselves and those who have access to them. It does not guarantee that bad things will not happen to them.  Unfortunately, there are people who will cross boundaries by force.  But a large percentage of the victims in our society come because an adult...a person in a position of trust...misuses that trust to take advantage of an innocent child.  

Let's make sure that it is not your child. 

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