Editor’s note: Missioner Tim Shelgren reflects on maintaining healthy boundaries with youth who long for love and affection.
As a missioner serving children over the past eighteen months, I have been introduced to a very real problem. Not only in Jamaica, but also in America and around the world, child abuse has become a common crime. Hence, to avoid accusation, teachers and other professionals who work directly with children have stopped hugging and/or touching children altogether.
Though caution, of course, is a must, many children are clearly suffering from lack of affection. I recognized this fact when I first arrived in Jamaica. At that time, the children I met would literally grab and hug me every single time they saw me. They could not keep their hands off my Caucasian hair, and they sat hip-to-hip/elbow-to-elbow with me when we worked on academic projects in the classroom.
Slowly, I have trained the children to be less aggressive in their desire–to say it bluntly–to climb all over me. Personally, I feel much safer now. However, as a Franciscan lay missioner whose primary goal is to develop relationships, I often feel bad. I want the children to know that I care about them. Though I am always gentle, physically pushing them away can send the opposite message.
Along with the world’s teachers and all others who serve children, I present this question, “How do we safely and effectively show children that we care about them? Answer: You may…
Two thousand years ago, Jesus himself told his disciples, “Let the children come to me.” As followers and emulators of Jesus, I believe we are to say the same ourselves today. Clearly, the children need us.
Unfortunately, however, because times have changed since Jesus walked the earth, today we must be extremely careful. Our spirits, our behaviors, and our intentions must be selfless and pure. This is the approach, I have learned, that keeps both the children and the adults safe. And the one that all of us may use to effectively show the children that we truly do care about them.