If you were never abused as a child you no doubt automatically set up your own boundaries and had no problem doing so. When your mother told you to get ready for dinner and you were busy playing your favorite game the word, “No” popped out of your mouth. Your mom probably thought it was cute……..at first. You even learned to say, ‘I’ll do it myself.” As time went on you began to learn which boundaries were okay and which weren’t.
If you were abused, especially sexually abused, you didn’t know what a boundary was. You already knew better than to say no. You already knew that your body didn’t belong to you and you had no right to say yes or no. In fact, you lived in fear that an opportunity would come up where something was going to happen where you’d give anything if you knew how to set a boundary. The main thing you knew was that saying no or fighting back caused great punishment. When I was young, before I was raped by my father at the age of 13, I had a few ideas of my own about setting boundaries. “I don’t want to,”, why can’t Gretchen due it instead?”, “I already did a lot of work today,” “Why do I have to?” etc. popped out of my mouth with regularity when given an order that I didn’t take kindly to. I ate a lot of soap and stood in a lot of corners. But I was stubborn and continued to put boundaries in front of me.
Once my dad entered my bedroom in the middle of that cold November night I no longer set boundaries, talked back, questioned my parent’s authority or tried in any way to protect myself. It was no use. There was no 911 back then. There was no Child Protective Services, at least in the small Nebraska town where I lived. And child sexual abuse was unheard of. My father was a hero to the farmers in this small town area. He was Superintendent of an electrical construction company and had brought electricity for the first time to the farmers. A friend of mine said he remembers the night, sitting in the kitchen of his farm, when my father flipped a switch and for the first time they had electricity. No, no one would have believed me.
Perpetrators not only thrive on children who don’t set boundaries; they know how to teach them that they have no right to a boundary. Perpetrators look for the most obedient child in the school yard. These are easy prey. Even grade school bullies know that the child that doesn’t fight back is the best target.
We must teach our children how to set boundaries. The first time they say the word “no” is a day to be celebrated. Even if they are going to have to do what you ask eventually, it still means they know how to set a boundary. Explaining to them why it is important to clean their room, eat their veggies, do their homework etc. is a simple matter. When they go out in public with you it is important that they not approach strangers and especially not respond to any stranger’s overtures. Even in their own home, they must know the importance of their own body, how it belongs to them and how no one has the right to touch them inappropriately. As the child grows older they will automatically know that if “Uncle Ben” wants them to sit on their lap and they don’t feel comfortable about it they have the right to say, “No, thank you.” Children are not stupid. They have their own intuitions and they often listen to them.
If you want your child to stay safe and to grow up safe, teach them how to set boundaries, how to scream for help, how to fight back and any other way you can think of that will protect them if someone inappropriate tries to place a hand on them. You are in charge of teaching them how to be safe. Take your job seriously.