Ask BBB: Parenting Advice from Betsy Brown Braun
QUESTION: Is it OK that our daughter, 12, has a boy for a best friend? I think they’re just friends, but I’m wondering if I should have a talk with her about boundaries. What do you think?
BBB: Yours is one of those that I call a “loaded question.” It is also one for which there is no yes or no answer.
Let’s start with the last part of your question first: Talking about boundaries. I think you don’t really mean “boundaries.” I am inferring that you mean not only the birds and the bees, but also relationships, interactions and protocol between adolescent boys and girls.
The conversation that addresses these questions is not one of those sit-down-and-give-it-in-one-huge-dose talks. Presumably, you have had countless conversations about boundaries and rules over the course of your daughter’s whole life. I am also hoping that you have had those more challenging conversations about things like sex. If not, you are overdue.
How, how much, when and how often to have conversations of this nature depends upon your daughter—her physical, social, emotional maturity and current experience, as well as the questions she asks. (Of course your child knows about the birds and the bees already! That conversation happened a long time ago, I hope.)
Isn’t it sad that we even need to consider if it’s OK for opposite gender kids to be best pals? There are many kids who have grown up with a boy or girl; they are close as siblings. Maybe s/he is someone from preschool or the child of the parent’s close friend. Friends who have known and played together for years and years are special friends, almost like siblings, whether or not they are the same gender.
Don’t assume because the boy-girl friends are close, that they will cross the line. Rather, put your daughter in the position of having a healthy friendship. Apply the same “boundaries” to this relationship that you would to any. For example, doors always stay open when friends are visiting.
My experience has shown that typical development usually prevails. Your daughter would not be comfortable changing her clothes in front of her male pal, for example, regardless of their being BFFs. However, you will likely be able to teach protocol as it becomes necessary. “Sorry, hon. At your ages, kids of opposite genders don’t sleep in the same room,” stated calmly, matter-of-factly.
Take pains not to make a bigger deal out of this than it may be (or could become). Trust that, for now, the lessons you have been teaching to her forever—in self-respect, trustworthiness and the rest—were well learned.
QUESTION: Our daughter is 13 and she recently told us that she doesn’t want grandpa to kiss her on the lips anymore. How do we tell grandpa without hurting his feelings?
BBB: I don’t blame your daughter one bit. I have vivid memories of my Aunt Shirley going in for a juicy kiss on the lips, and I hated it!
These days, stories of child sexual abuse by trusted people in the child’s world are rampant. It is of critical importance that we encourage and honor a child’s ability to say NO, reminding her/him that she is the boss of her kisses, hugs and demonstrations of affection. No exceptions. This is one of the ways that we protect our children from child sexual abuse. There are too many tales of abuse that was visited on a child who was acquiescent, despite questionable feelings because the perpetrator was a familiar and trusted person in her life.
We also want our children to know that if anyone attempts to do something that makes her feel uncomfortable, the child must, she MUST tell her parent, teacher or doctor. The saying goes: Don’t tell means tell!
When you speak to your parent (her grandparent), you are giving your daughter the clear message that she was heard and that her feelings matter. Pretty important stuff, wouldn’t you say?
Here comes the tricky part: your relatives. Yes, I know that your parents will likely be offended and feel rejected because your child does not want Grandpa’s lip kisses. That might just have to be the way it is. This is where I remind you of the importance of keeping your priorities in order. I am pretty sure that you agree that your child’s well-being and safety take precedence over your parents’ feelings.
Perhaps you can address your father, respectfully and carefully, as follows:
Dad, I know you like Mandy to kiss you on the lips. Mandy has told me that she doesn’t like it. She loves you, but she doesn’t feel comfortable with that kind of kissing. Of course you want Mandy to be safe in life. Part of that is allowing her to say no when it comes to her kisses and hugs. We need to listen to her when she says that she doesn’t like something involving her body. That will give her power and confidence to speak up to someone who may have bad intentions.
Yes, your parents might have hurt feelings at first, but they will adjust to the new reality, showing respect for your daughter’s feelings. And please make sure that they lay no guilt trip on your daughter. She, after all, is in the right on this one.
Betsy Brown Braun, M.A. is a Child Development and Behavior Specialist (infants to teens), a Parent Educator and Multiple Birth Parenting Specialist. Betsy consults with parents privately, runs parenting groups, seminars and workshops for parents, teachers and other professionals. She is the author of the bestselling “Just Tell Me What to Say” and has been featured on the “Today Show.” Betsy and Ray Braun, Palisades residents for 38 years, are the parents of adult triplets and have five grandchildren, so far.