My Dog’s Got a Canker Sore, and Other Random Comments…
“My dog has a canker sore.” “My dad ran over the mailbox.” “I named an alligator after my boyfriend.” “Is she from here?” “Can I touch her hair?” This list could go on and on. Why is it that random strangers feel compelled to ask personal questions that they wouldn’t even ask their own mother? What makes people feel comfortable telling strangers about their problems? When did we stop helping people understand social boundaries?
This type of behavior is seen as cute or even funny in young children; but it quickly becomes uncomfortable as that child becomes a teenager, and yet it happens everyday even among adults. I have had several of these instances in the last few days, where perfect strangers shared private information with me or asked me personal questions.
I will admit that I tend to be more on the private side; but I think there is a limit to how much information people should feel comfortable sharing with acquaintances and strangers. I know things that I should not or do not want to know about perfect strangers. This isn’t because I’ve asked, but because they felt compelled to tell me. I’m sure we have all been in that uncomfortable situation while sitting in a restaurant, or in line at the grocery store; and you hear someone talking on their cell phone about some intimate detail of their life, or the person in line behind you starts asking you questions about yourself or your purchases. These situations are very awkward, and can be very uncomfortable.
So how do we help our children learn social boundaries in a society where freely sharing personal information is being displayed for them? I think it is very important to be a good model for your child. Demonstrate how to interact with others including friends, acquaintances, and strangers. Use teachable moments; and when your child tells a stranger something that you consider to be private information, take time to talk with your child about why you shouldn’t share that information with someone you don’t know. I’m not saying you should teach your child to be unfriendly; but understanding social boundaries is important.
The first step in teaching your child social boundaries is to exam your own boundaries and limits for what is acceptable to you. Think about how you have felt in situations where people shared personal information with you, and then think about your style of communication with others. Reflect on what you are modeling for your child. It may be that you feel comfortable with what you are demonstrating for your child, or you may decide that you need to make some adjustments. Think of some ways that you could model appropriate behavior for your child. Helping children learn social boundaries is a skill that is important now and in the future, especially if your child is receiving treatment for autism or other related disorders. Children learn a lot from watching their parents, so we need to make sure we are setting good examples.