Saturday, June 1, 2013

Beware, Jack the Tickler!

Act #152:  Teach your kids boundaries.

Recently, I've observed my five-year old son approaching his little friends (who happen to be girls) and tickling them.  Everywhere.  Under their arms, on their tummies, under their chins.  When this happens I notice that most of the little girls giggle and tickle him back.  Maybe this is some socially acceptable mode of communication between kindergartners?  I may have missed it entirely if I hadn't noticed that one of my son's six-year-old "victims" didn't giggle and didn't tickle him back.  She just turned away quietly with a polite forced grin on her face. 

I know my kid is five and he means absolutely no harm.  He's just trying to illicit some laughter from someone he's clearly trying to impress.  But try as I might, I just couldn't get the image of the polite forced grin of that little six-year-old girl out of my mind.

So I talked to my son.  I talked to him about the importance of respecting other people's bodies and personal space.  I asked him if he would like it if someone just came up to him and started touching him without his permission.  I told him that maybe some kids didn't like tickling.  I suggested that he ask somebody before he tickled them and I taught him to be more mindful of their responses and body language.  If the other kid smiles politely and just shifts her body away, that probably means she doesn't want to be tickled. 

But something else was also bothering me greatly.  What was going on the mind of that six-year old girl?  In her short life span, society had somehow already managed to teach her that being polite was more important than speaking out about something that bothered her.  In her short life span, she already managed to give up her power to a silly (and clueless) five-year old boy.

Harmless as childhood tickling may be, I can't help but wonder - if we taught our boys early on to respect personal space boundaries, and that they didn't have free reign to another person's body - whether or not we might have a shot at transforming a future culture of sexism, if we might in fact help mitigate a future culture of violence, or even rape? And what messages are we - the media, Disney princesses - currently sending our little girls about being polite, about "grinning and bearing" to boys?

So now my son has become that kid that walks up to little girls and asks them, "May I tickle you?" Most say yes, and they proceed to engage in a drawn-out tickle fest. But I was surprised at how many actually said no. I was surprised..and I was happy...that my kid had the opportunity to learn at such an early age, how to give back a power that was never his to begin with.


  1. I've been reading a lot about non-consensual tickling from kids to kids and from adults/parents to kids. Yours is a very concise post that many a parent should read. Tickling is a great way to start to talk to kids about consent and personal boundaries and rights.

    1. I never thought of using tickling as a conversation starter about consent, but you are so right! What a great natural opportunity to begin to help our young people understand boundaries!