Encouraging Healthy Sexual Boundaries In the Foster Home
SHERYL OVERBY MS NCC LIMHP www.sheryloverby.com
Woodhaven Counseling Associates 402-592-0328
All humans have to learn boundaries, either by modeling or teaching in early childhood; it simply is not something hardwired into the brain. It would be nice if all the youth who come to your home had good boundaries, but chances are, you will have some work to do. Since part of the definition of healthy sexuality is that it happens in private, most children and teens simply do not know that there is anything other than what they have seen in their history or via our current American sexualized culture. Families are the perfect place to offer an alternative and healthy view of sexuality. Here are my best tips on how to help the kids in your home.
#1 Create an Atmosphere of Sexual Respect
- Do not allow suggestive or obscene language from anyone of any age. This includes sexual innuendos and jokes that creates the message that sex is an everyday thing.
- Do all you can to avoid objectification, which is seeing a person as an object, most typically a sexual object.
- Sexually explicit materials such photos, videos, catalogs, music, computer games or TV programs should be completely eliminated from the household, and the garage, and underneath the seat in your truck.
- Reinforce healthy messages like: “every person, young and old, deserves to have their body respected and sex is a great and wonderful thing for adults, when they think and think about when to share their bodies” or “sex can be a special way to connect to another person, but now is not the time for you”.
- It is difficult to traverse the wide gap between clothing fashion trends and sexual respect, but you gotta try. It is important for both girls and boys to know a) That even if a girl wears something sexually provocative, it does not give anyone the right to abuse her AND b) That boys (especially age 11-14) have erections at seeing even the slightest bit of cleavage and the girls can help them out by not wearing sexually provocative clothing AND c) That even if something is in style, it is not allowed if it contributes to the objectification of that person, male or female.
- All children need basic information about how they develop sexually. Make sure they have an age appropriate book that they can keep in their room and look at any time to answer their questions about sex.
- They also will benefit from an atmosphere in which it is OK to talk about sex, but you will have to bring up the subject often so they know it is OK to talk about it. Sometimes, you will be the one doing all the talking.
- Appropriate words for body parts, such as penis, vagina, breasts, and buttocks, will give the youth helpful words to use to describe themselves, especially if they have to talk about sexual activity or sexual abuse.
- Youth need to learn that they have the right to assertively say “no” when someone touches them ANY WHERE or in ANY WAY they do not like. Help them to practice this with peers, siblings and adults.
- A youth should NEVER be pressured into touching someone or showing affection if they are not comfortable.
- For teenagers, both young women and young men need to know that NO MEANS NO.
- Remind everyone that all sexual activity is consented by both parties every single time, even between a couple who has been together for years and years. Both parties have the freedom to say yes, and both parties have the freedom to say no.
#2 New Rules to Prevent Future Problems
Being Alone With One Other Person
- If your youth has problematic sexual behaviors or if they behave seductively or aggressively, they need direct supervision! This means they are never alone with another child and sometimes this includes older children and other adults.
- You may need to be able to both SEE and HEAR everything your youth does and says when they are with others. This eliminates any anxiety when confused or ambivalent about the intent of a behavior.
- Consult a therapist to decide the supervision needs of a child with a history of sexual abuse. Some youth need very little, others need very firm limits and structure.
- The goal of supervision is to have “in the moment coaching” for problem solving, social skills and to help them manage feelings.
- Siblings are not allowed to provide supervision; this alters the family dynamic and creates an unhealthy balance among siblings that could facilitate additional problems.
- Remember, children do not need “foreplay” in order to have a desire for sexual behavior, it only takes a child about 12 seconds to invade another child’s boundary or body.
- All children need NON SEXUAL touch. If a youth’s only form of affection in the past has been via sexuality, they will need to learn how to show and receive affection in non-sexual ways again and again, and again.
- Do not be afraid to touch your child or teen, however, it is advised that the touching be interruptible or observable. Please consult with the youth’s therapist to identify what types of touch will be the most helpful.
- Help your youth learn the appropriate use of all different types of healthy touch. They include: affection, brotherly love, comfort, friendship, encouragement, comradery, greetings, praise, nurturing and playfulness.
- Be cautious about wrestling and tickling, as common as these behaviors are, they are often tinged with sexual overtones and can put a younger child in a weak or humiliating position.
- Do not allow other children to sit on the lap of a youth with sexualized behavior.
- Adults in the home should also show NON SEXUAL affection towards each other in front of the children (hugging, holding hands, light kissing). They can learn that affection is a part of sexual activity, but not always, and there is a way for a couple to show affection in public that is NON SEXUAL.
- Everyone has a right to privacy. All the youth in your home should be taught to knock when a door is closed and adults need to role model the same behavior. Modesty is the best policy.
- Young people also deserve to have privacy with their thoughts, feelings, personal belongings, personal space and time.
- Children and teens who have been abused or who have sexually harmed another person deserve the right to privacy when determining who needs to know about their history.
- Don’t forget that adults need privacy too, especially if engaged in sexual activity. Lock the bedroom door always and make sure children cannot hear sexually related noises. This is extremely overwhelming and arousing for a youth who may not have a healthy understanding of sexuality.
- In general, it is recommended that youth who are already confused about sexuality have separate bedrooms and bathroom time. Every child needs a place and time when they can be alone and have personal time.
- If a youth is scared at night, work out a plan to help them feel safe without sleeping in bed with another person.
- Post and enforce the list of PRIVACY RULES for children and older youth; see handout attached.
#3 Interrupt Patterns of Unhealthy Sexual Behavior
- Help children and teens differentiate between feelings and behaviors. It is normal to have all kinds of feelings, including sexual feelings. However, everyone does not always act on all the feelings he or she has.
- Remember girls gets just as aroused as boys, it’s just not visible. Both boys and girls need to understand what is happening in their bodies and to know how they should react.
- Some children and teens need very specific instructions on how to distract themselves when aroused and how to decide when it’s OK or not OK to touch themselves or masturbate.
- Youth who have been sexually abused may have trauma related flashbacks associated with arousal. It is very important to change this pattern if they are to have a healthy sex life with a partner as an adult. Please seek the assistance of a therapist if you think this is happening.
- If a child (before puberty) is touching their own private parts, it is for very different reasons than a teen or adult due to the lack of hormones and sex drive. I prefer the term “self touch” rather than “masturbation”.
- Young children really benefit from having relaxing activities or physical activities that will change the body’s arousal pattern. Give them a list of things that they can do without permission.
- Both children and teens need to know the dos and don’ts regarding touching themselves, proper hygiene and how to properly care for the private parts of their bodies.
- Helping your child with arousal will go along way to prevent child on child sexual assault or problematic sexual beheavior (psb).
Understand that sexuality fills an emotional void; then fill that void in non-sexual ways
- Need for love and belonging. Help each youth create connections with adults in non-sexual ways, so they feel attachment and caring from others. Remember that sexuality imitates the feeling of closeness and love in the brain. Many kids in foster care are horribly lonely; but convince themselves that they don’t need friends.
- Need to feel competent. Help the kids in your home find something they are good at and encourage them. Help them fit in with at least one friend or join a club or team with a shared activity.
- Need for comfort when upset or stressed. Many children’s first choice of comfort is self-touch, please help them learn other ways to comfort themselves without feeling shame or embarrassment.
- Need for power. A person who has been abused will naturally want to compensate my controlling something else. Give your youth something to be “in charge of” and ask for their advice regarding this subject. Teach the appropriate use of drawing straws, taking turns and rotating responsibilities so the foster youth have equal power with other siblings.
- Need for play and fun. Playing and having fun is one of the best ways to release stress or simply enjoy yourself. The second best way to release stress and enjoy yourself (at least for adults) is by having sex.
- Need for sensory pleasure. Let’s face it, sex feels good, your body feels good and your brain is filled with endorphins. But there are other ways to also get pleasure through the senses.
- Need for affection. Sometimes the need for affection is directly confused with feeling aroused and what the youth actually needs is nurturing or cuddling. This is a little tricky in a foster home setting, as cuddling may be confused for sexual intentions and advice from a therapist or service provider is recommended.
- Need to avoid feeling intense pain. Being pre-occupied with sexuality fills the empty spaces in your brain so you don’t have to think about the pain in your life. Help the youth find other ways to fill this space with hobbies or other interests; better yet, help them learn to tolerate the pain in small doses and express emotions in healthy ways.
- Need to feel safe. In order for a child to develop emotionally, they must feel physically and emotionally safe. That means there is no threat of further abuse, shame or guilt. Sexuality can become a coping skill by manipulating others; which also protects the youth from feeling vulnerable or weak.
Stop/Limit use of Pornography
- Computer and internet time should be monitored to the best of your ability. Remember, the youth has more time, energy and motivation to break through the parental controls software than the parent has to maintain it.
- The absolute best defense is your relationship with the youth in your home, not punishments. Talk, teach, coach, and help your youth manage what they are exposed to on the internet and how to interact with others in safe and healthy ways.
- Girls are just as likely to get involved in pornography as boys. In my experience, boys tend to search for porn online and girls tend to find it by accident. But once they get exposed, they can’t resist wanting to see more.
- Please be willing to talk to them about what happens online and in social media, or find someone who will.
- 93% of teens use the internet every day and 24% use it “almost constantly”. It’s almost a full time job to manage the social media the youth in your home will have access to. Even if it’s only via friends’ phones and the internet at school. So, welcome to your new hobby.
- Be informed about Cyber-bullying and sexting, which are both much more common than sexual predators online. This directly ties into emotional needs as described above.
- It’s a whole new world. Studies in 2013 found that 59% of children are using social networking by age 10 and 75% of children age 0 to 8 use mobile devices that can access the internet. Children and teens have no idea that the sexual images that they will see online do not happen in real life, in healthy relationships. This has the ripple effect of damaging future relationships.
- Pornography is the exact opposite of sexual respect. Healthy sexuality means ADULTS have sexual activity in a RELATIONSHIP with a REAL LIVE PERSON, not an image on the computer screen, which may or may not be real. Make sure the adults in the youth’s life model this message in their own behavior.