SAFE TOUCH AND BOUNDARIES
by Randy Ellison
Author of the book Boys Don’t Tell: Ending the Silence of Abuse
Our local faith community struggles constantly with finding new ways to create a Safe Church experience for everyone. We are experiencing a new awareness that is a lesson we are learning from the children.
One of the ways we traditionally show we care is by touching or hugging others. Are you a hugger? Or do you prefer a handshake? Our comfort or discomfort with either is a personal boundary and our boundaries help us feel safe. What to some is a sign of care and inclusion, to others is often uncomfortable at best, and triggering as uncomfortable touch at worst.
As adults some of us give off body language that we would rather not hug. Others body’s muscles tighten with the undesired physical contact. The point is that everyone should be able to choose whether they want to be touched or not.
We are told we need to teach children about setting healthy boundaries, and this is very true. The piece we have missed is to help empower children by teaching them to listen to their own natural defenses. If you look at a child, their face will tell you when they are uncomfortable. Most children are not happy when they are told to hug or kiss someone, and even less so when it is forced on them.
Imagine being 30 inches tall in a group of people that all seem to be grabbing at you. Sounds a little like a Stephen King novel doesn’t it? Besides the general unpleasant experience, we are sending a message that children do not have the right set their own personal boundaries; the very opposite of what they need to stay healthy and safe.
It is important to teach children that their bodies are their own and they get to choose who and when to let someone touch them, as well as giving that same choice to others.
We want to learn to respect each other’s boundaries as we learn different ways to greet and show inclusion. Help teach our kids that they get to choose if they do, or do not want a hug. Give them the choice. Here are a couple of other ways to greet children (as well as adults!).
We are not saying don’t ever hug a child. We are saying don’t assume it is okay to hug anyone without their permission. As a child growing up in the 1950’s, we did not have that choice.
“We do the best we can with what we know, and when we know better, we do better.”
We now know better, let’s do better.
Consultant, speaker, writer and author of the book Boys Don’t Tell: Ending the Silence of Abuse, Randy Ellison is a child sexual abuse victim’s advocate and an activist promoting legislative and cultural change working with local, state and national organizations. He addresses abuse prevention and healing for survivors from a survivor’s perspective.
He is the author of over 180 articles on child sex abuse and, besides local and national media interviews, Randy is the subject of several documentaries, including Pursuit of Truth. Randy began his activism as one of Oprah’s 200 Men, male survivors of child sex abuse.
Randy is a member of the Oregon Attorney General’s Sexual Assault Task Force. He maintains a website for survivors.