Teaching kids to respect themselves
When I get on the phone with parents, we often talk about how to teach respect and healthy boundaries.
That’s not what they thought they were calling me to talk about. They thought it was how to explain to their child that they don’t want them spending alone-time with someone who sets off the parent’s creep meter. Or how to talk to their child about how the child is dressing. Or how to talk to them about consent. You get the picture.
I see bad boundaries everywhere I go, and it’s pretty simple: if it isn’t graceful, you can probably trace the problem back to bad boundaries.
The parent or child is getting reactive because they didn’t know what to do to be heard before they just can’t take it anymore. The teen allows a bad situation because they don’t know how or when to stand up for themselves.
Many of us are self-centered without actually taking care of ourselves, and our kids are too.
Skill building healthy boundaries
You might rely on social norms to set your boundaries. Like: if this is what’s expected by others, then this is what I should expect too. It’s a pretty good strategy, but it keeps us hiding behind our masks, telegraphing “I’ve got it all under control too,” and it just doesn’t work when it comes to sex. Bodies and arousal are so incredibly diverse.
How do you judge when to say yes, when to say no, when to go with the flow, when to compromise?
How do you teach your kids to have good judgement, so you can trust them out in the world?
Your boundaries come from inside you. Social norms and people pleasing are things we learned, and they come from outside ourselves. Our first task is to learn to listen to ourselves, especially if that voice has been drowned out in the past. The second skill is to unmute that voice.
Not only do we have to feel and defend our boundaries, we have to experience doing this successfully. Part of healing our core wounds (and we all have boundaries wounds) is to go back and recognize what happened and how we felt about it. The other half of healing is to relish having what we didn’t have before. Reaching neutral isn’t enough. We have to thrive.
Here’s an anecdote from my life:
I remember being 13 and a family member put on a movie and invited me to sit on his lap. I did, not realizing that his motivation was sexual.
He moved to touch my breasts and I pushed his hands away. But I didn’t get up and leave. I let him nuzzle my neck, even though it made me uncomfortable.
Why? Because I was taking care of him. I didn’t want to upset him by rejecting him.
I thought of it as a compromise. The first situation was unbearable, but I could take the nuzzling. That was my standard – it was “ok” if I could tough it out.
I didn’t know then that preferences can be compromised, but not boundaries. It’s a subtle but very important distinction, one I wish I could discuss thoroughly with every teen, because it’s such a common mistake.
Now I’ve come full circle. I am empowered. One of the simplest ways to defend your boundaries is to move your body away from what you don’t like. Now I wouldn’t hesitate and I wouldn’t “compromise.”
The keys to healthy boundaries
The keys to good boundaries are courageous vulnerability, clear communication, and a willingness to prioritize yourself. If you’re willing to do those three things, healthy boundaries are within reach.
Boundaries are a foundational skill that no one taught us. We’re supposed to practice and get better at it over time, but many of us can’t see it clearly to get a good handle on it. If that’s you, let’s talk! I’m sure I can help.
In support of you,
P.S. Boundaries are a big part of the Attuned group program. Join us to work on these skills in a community of parents with similar challenges and desires. Over the next 6 months, we’ll change the communication patterns so that your family is having comfortable, everyday conversations about sex and relationships. Check it out!