and intimacy in intergenerational relationships
do no harm’
By Dr Frans Gieles
Newsletter E 17, June 2004
rights and a reasoned discussion are a fundamental basis for the following
ethical ideas about intergenerational relationships. One of these rights is that
of choice of contacts and relationships with other humans. Contact is necessary
for humans, and relationships can enrich life for both partners. This is the
basis of reasonable ethical thought about intergenerational relationships.
much intimacy a contact or relationship has is in the first place a free choice
for both partners. This may differ according to the individuals and the
situation. There is only one general rule or principle that counts in every
relationship: Do no harm.
there is more to say. What follows are no general rules, nor commandments on
tablets of stone for eternity, but guidelines or thoughts, points to take into
consideration, together with the local mores, laws and customs in a
given society and era.
The result, an ethical idea about an actual relationship, will differ with the
people and the situation.
the course of years, Ipce members have developed the following main guidelines
Some main guidelines
In any intergenerational relationship or contact
both partners, the adult as well as the young person, have it in their power to
regulate their own lives, their relationships and the grade of intimacy.
In friendship relationships or contacts, both
partners have the freedom to withdraw from the relationship at any moment. Love
and dedication are unconditional; they bind partners who are free and
In dependency relationships or contacts, (such
as parent-child or teacher-pupil) love and dedication should also be
unconditional, but freedom to withdraw does not exist in practice. So, extra
attention should be given to the right to the self-determination and
responsibility of both partners. Here, the grade of intimacy has two limits:
complete distance is not possible nor wanted, complete intimacy will interfere
with the dependency: complete intimacy asks for complete freedom, which does not
exist in dependency relationships.
grade of openness
Openness is a typical western value; many other cultures respect and maintain secrets. Openness within a relationship is a good value. Openness to the parents is strongly recommended.
Openness to others is a good value as long as they respect one's right to
self-determination. So, openness to others may be good, but it is not always
necessary and not always possible. For example, intimacy between males is still
a great taboo, for instance, in most schoolyards. Or, in many families, the very
existence of any form of sexual life in a young person is taboo.
Many young people prefer consciously to have their own
secrets. They make their own choices and do not want to be protected. ‘Don’t
treat me as a child’, they say. It is their right to have this freedom, the
freedom to say no and the freedom to say yes. There is also a
right of privacy.
3. Act in harmony ...
... with the stage of development of the child.
Harm can come from feelings of shame and dirtiness,
learned from society. Harm can come from a society that uses power or violence
to force the end of a relationship. One should consider this risk, as well as
the risk of blackmail. The adult as well as the young person is vulnerable in
this society nowadays.
Thus: do no harm nor take the risk.
Thus: do no harm nor take the risk.
Gieles, Frans, Warmth
and intimacy, how about them? Published and reprinted since 1983 in
Dutch magazine and book.
Gieles, F.E.J., "I didn't know how to deal with it", Young people speak out about their sexual contacts with adults, translated from the Dutch NVSH Lwg JORis Newsletter, april 1998.
Ree, Frank van, Intimate
relationships between young people and adults - Are there criteria for a
positive experience? KOINOS MAGAZINE #24 (1999/4)
and Bisexual Adolescent Boys' Sexual Experiences With Men: