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Healthy Personal Boundaries Online Start Offline

Teaching children about personal boundaries is an important part of online safety. Individuals who present a risk to children usually begin by breaking boundaries with them and trying to normalize inappropriate behaviour — this is true for both the offline and online worlds.

It is important that children be aware of other people’s behaviour (i.e. trusting their instincts and being aware of behaviour that seems “weird” or “creepy”). Teaching children about boundaries increases the likelihood of them recognizing if someone is behaving inappropriately or unsafely; and teaching them to tell a safe adult about behaviour that makes them feel uncomfortable increases the chances that they will tell someone about it.

Boundaries help define appropriate limits in relationships and behaviour between individuals. Setting personal boundaries lets others know how we expect to be treated.

How and when do parents introduce personal boundaries with children?

Start early

Learning about personal boundaries should begin when children are very young. It is typical for children to regularly break boundaries – they are testing limits which helps them learn and develop. When your child crosses the line with others, it is important to point out, explain and correct the behaviour. It is equally important to acknowledge and respect your child’s limits. Re-establishing and negotiating boundaries is an ongoing process.

Fully explain what personal boundaries are

Personal boundaries are about providing a standard of measure for what is okay and not okay (safe and unsafe) when it comes to the relationships we have with other people. Having well-defined personal boundaries are what makes each person distinct in who they are and what they feel and think.

Examples of breaking boundaries:
Continuing to touch someone who shows discomfort
Asking personal questions when you do not know someone well (online or offline)
Asking personal questions in front of others to embarrass a person
Children accessing or being exposed to adult material and information (e.g. movies, TV shows, websites, etc.)
Walking in on someone who is changing or using the bathroom
Sending or posting personal pictures online of others without their permission
Examples of respecting boundaries:
Respecting limits set by someone
Asking permission before using something that belongs to another person
Giving someone privacy to change or use the bathroom
Respecting someone’s private thoughts rather than being intrusive or demanding to know something that a person doesn’t want to share
Not sharing information online that has been shared in confidence

Guidelines you can use to help teach your child about personal boundaries

  1. Model appropriate boundaries for your child and re-establish boundaries with your child when they are broken. If your child invades personal space, asks personal questions or misplaces their authority with an adult, gently explain the appropriate behaviour.
  2. Establish family privacy rules for using the bathroom, bathing and changing. Designate a personal space in the home for each person’s belongings (e.g. a bedroom, closet, drawers, shelves, etc.).
  3. Establish and reinforce the role of your child within the family. Children should be separated from adult issues – this includes adult decision-making and adult relationship problems. Setting these boundaries clarifies the child’s role in the family and builds their security.
  4. Teach your child the difference between healthy (caring, respectful) and unhealthy (controlling behaviours such as persistence/pressure) behaviour in relationships – both online and offline.
Encourage your child to tell you when they think others, including adults, are breaking boundaries or not respecting limits.

The tips and other information provided herein is intended as general information only, not as advice. Readers should assess all information in light of their own circumstances, the age and maturity level of the child(ren) they wish to protect and any other relevant factors.