The Ethics and Boundaries of Sharing
As parents, we are trying to teach our children the behaviors that may create a better world when they are grown. Let’s be honest: sharing is not as common among adults in our society today as we would like it to be. Therefore, when we are teaching our children the value of sharing, we are parenting to the ideal. That is great: after all, who wants to parent to the lowest expectation possible? And what effect would that have on our children? Perish the thought!
If we are going to parent to the ideal, then what are the boundaries that should be in place? Is sharing always the ideal response? Ironically, the answer is no. Our children need to learn personal boundaries as well as sharing. This is because people without clearly defined personal boundaries are often prey to those who would take advantage of their selfless generosity. In this blog, we will explore the boundaries of sharing.
Sharing is based on the assumption of freely giving. For example, if your child’s friend asks to borrow her bicycle, it is an act of sharing for your child to grant her friend’s request. Another example occurs when your child observes that her friend is in temporary need of a bicycle and offers to loan her bicycle to her friend (this being done without a specific request from the friend). Conversely, when the friend demands or simply takes your child’s bicycle, it is theft rather than sharing that is at play. That is a violation of your child’s personal boundaries. This is not to say that sharing can’t occur later with this friend and your child’s bicycle, but the first reaction should be to establish a healthy personal boundary. For example, you can and should teach your child to say, “No, that is MY bicycle. You can’t just take it. If you want to use it, I would like you to ASK me.”
Sharing as it impacts personal boundaries is assessed relative to the impact of that sharing. For example, if your child has two cookies and offers one to her friend, that is healthy sharing. However, if your child has two cookies and offers them both to her friend (assuming that friend is not truly “in need” of two cookies), that is self-sacrificing sharing that may indicate that the child does not have clearly defined personal boundaries. Another example pairing is as follows. If your child has taken a pet rock to show-and-tell, and one of her friends admires the pet rock and asks to borrow it for the evening so s/he can take it home and show his/her parents, that is healthy sharing. Conversely, if your child has taken a family heirloom to show-and-tell, and she lets a messy, accident-prone child take the family heirloom home that night to show his/her parents, a personal boundary has likely been crossed.
Sharing is the ideal, and we should certainly parent to the ideal. We are, after all, shaping not only our children, but also the world in which they will operate. We want that to be the best and happiest world possible for them. To accomplish that, we need to teach personal boundaries as well as sharing.
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