Boundary Scripts: Can We Talk?

Having set the scene at the start of the semester, explained the skills and topics we will cover together and the rationale behind teaching the way that I do, I provide my students with an opportunity to shape our curriculum.

Now that you know the why and what we will cover in class this semester, what do you want me to include in our lessons so that I can personalize my instruction in the best way possible?

As each of my 26 years in the classroom goes by, I have seen an increase in the number of students who need help, advice, practice in navigating difficult conversations with the peers, their families, and occasionally their romantic partner. Today’s teens and tweens want to know how they let someone know that they have behaved in a way that has gone the relationship boundaries. They want to know how to let someone know that a line has been crossed. They want to know how to navigate those awkward conversations and differences of opinion that inevitably arise at each family gathering

Good communication is a skill, with many components, and as such needs to be practiced in a number of scenarios and in different formats. NHES standard 4 states that “Students will demonstrate the ability to use interpersonal communication skills to enhance health and avoid or reduce health risks” with one of the performance indicators recognizing that:

The ability to organize and to convey information and feelings is the basis for strengthening interpersonal interactions and reducing or avoiding conflict.

I’ve blogged before about the need to provide health skill practice in the classroom. In that post I stated that “sometimes the participatory methods used in the classroom, that allow students to practice their health skills, can seem unrealistic. But at least it gives students the opportunity to practice in a safe environment, where they are encouraged to make the healthy choice. Once students are out there in the ‘real world’ they now have a frame of reference, and can look back on all of the occasions that they successfully practiced the skill in the classroom.”

For that reason, I want to introduce you to an idea based on a wonderful Instagram account. The @_good.byes_ account is run by Justine Ang Fonte who has been described as someone who “has been disrupting health education for 11 years as a sex educator fighting for a more sex-positive world and she has kept her foot on the sex-positive pedal even in the face of resistance.” In addition to her work in communities wishing to build/enhance the practice of intersectional health, running her own website and popping up in my social media feed here (with AMAZE), and here (with The Psych Show), Justine creates really clever, ghostwritten scripts, modeling what difficult conversations might look/sound like.

Justine’s concise scripts cover relationship break-ups, setting relationship boundaries, letting someone know they crossed a line, being ghosted, liars, hook-ups, and navigating friends and family while facing the realities of COVID. There is a topic, or boundary script on the @_good.byes_ feed that will speak to each of your students, and perhaps you too.

I love this boundary script for dealing with a new romantic partner, who has neglected to mention that they were currently seeing someone else. The values statement at the beginning will be familiar to many health teachers, and the message here is clear – this behavior isn’t in alignment with my values and as such, we can not proceed. Clear, concise, and closing the conversation.
If you’re teaching communication in class and use the ITELLYOU acronym, you’ll recognize many great strategies in this boundary script. Identification and telling of feelings, the use of ‘I’ statements, an assertive communication style, all while being open to a discussion to address the issue.

In this interview, Justine talked about the inception of these scripts. “First and foremost my goal was: I want to empower people with literal vocabulary and scripts to be able to communicate with other people in their life,”. In the same interview Justine talks about the ‘compliment-sandwich formula which might look/sound a little like this:

Hi [Name] here’s what was really great + Here’s the thing that I think was missing or the thing that I think we didn’t align on +  I wish you well because you are a good person. 

This boundary script speaks to all of my students. Juggling academics, extra-curriculars, family and peers is hard, and often time my students will forsake their own health needs in order to make others happy. My students need to be more like this with the Maya’s in their lives. I need to be more like this with my Maya’s.

I think students will appreciate the clarity in each of Justine’s scripts. They don’t pull any punches. They show quite clearly what happened, how it impacted the subject of the unwanted behavior, and always ends in a way that suggests a relationship is over, or needs more work. Fonte recommends ending with a very clear conclusion. It doesn’t have to be “I wish you well.” It can be “I’m expecting us to not be in contact after this.” Or, “I await your response for when we can talk about this more.” 

Using boundary scripts in the classroom.

We want our students to access a wide range of valid and reliable sources of information, and considering Justine’s wealth of experience, this Instagram account demonstrates that some social media feeds can be considered valid and reliable.

I recommend that students are given the opportunity to explore the @_good.byes_ feed to see which boundary scripts catch their eye.Then get students to share their thoughts with peers in small groups before identifying the important qualities in an effective boundary script.

Provide students with the opportunity to read the scripts aloud to hear what they sound like, and see how easy they are to deliver.

After a class discussion challenge each group to identify age-specific scenarios and craft the perfect boundary script for that situation. Again, I would encourage students to read these aloud, perhaps include them in a skit (role play can be fun and super effective if done correctly. If students are unable to create scenarios, find some that you already use in the classroom for other content areas.

Finally provide time for students to consider a situation of which they have experienced first hand, and create the perfect boundary script.

This activity would pair very nicely with the health skill of decision making – consider a decision, use the DECIDE model to reach a decision that aligns with your values, and justify the decision in a boundary script.

When I ran my thoughts on this activity by the awesome health educator Emily Zien (I hope you are following her on Twitter), she suggested that students could discuss when certain conversations can be texted, and which ones were better face-to-face.

Finally, Justine’s original boundary scripts are great to look at. You may even have noticed that she color-coordinates them by topic. They would be great to display in the classroom, or post on social media as an example of the work being done by your students. Perhaps you could tag Justine, or myself, so that we can see how you have been inspired by the @_good.byes_ account.

I used Canva to create simple boundary script templates for you to use in your classroom. Click here to access them.

You can follow Justine Ang Fonte’s work via her website, her Twitter account, and her Instagram account.

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