From my own personal experience with childhood sex abuse and as a target of severe workplace harassment had I been taught at an early age what inappropriate touching, personal space and boundaries were I might have been better equipped to navigate the different circumstances of the sexual abuse and harassment I encountered.
I have made it one of my missions to help raise awareness and educate others about sexual abuse among children. I advocate for the importance of parents and other trusted adults who care for young children on a daily basis to be alert and educated on some very simple things we may overlook which can be signs of or lead to inappropriate sexual behavior towards young children.
Teaching our children about Consent, Personal space, Boundaries and Inappropriate behavior so that they know what to look for is key & it is never too early to show them that their words are powerful tools in safe guarding or protecting themselves.
According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, one in four girls experience sexual abuse before they turn 18, however the fact is all genders are at risk. Some may find it sensitive or uncomfortable and may even question my “expertise” on the topic, which is where I would respond that living it is expertise enough! In our daily lives there are so many seemingly innocent behaviors and body language queues that go unnoticed or dismissed that are actual telltale signs that something is amiss. We choose to overlook it either by feeling of guilt, shame or awkwardness if we strike up the confrontation and ask questions. I can assure you that as a parents I never apologize for being too vigilant or careful and if another adult cannot see the value in that then it speaks more about them than you. My motto is “when in doubt, dont!” I tend to trust my gut and usually I am right.
Conversations should start at an early age, appropriate for the child & often. Approaching the topic does not have to be more difficult than it seems. We get so excited in the first few years of our children’s lives about mommy and me classes, ballet, soccer, gymnastics etc, why aren’t we getting excited about giving them the tools to protect themselves not only physically, but emotionally and mentally too. We should want them to grasp the concept of personal space, respect for others and themselves early on as this also helps with maintaining healthy relationships in the future.
When your child begins discovering their bodies and asking questions is the perfect time to have age appropriate conversations pointing out what private body parts are and the correct words to describe their body parts – your child has a Penis or a Vagina- use the right words! Explain that it is not appropriate for anyone to touch them there or for them to touch another person there and understanding that their bodies belong to them.
We can teach awareness and still be clear that no one is allowed to touch our Private Parts. Period! There is no good touch, bad touch because this can be confusing. Exploration of your child’s body by other children or adults can result in unintentional sexual behavior.
I explain to my child that “I show you mine, you show me yours” when it comes to her body isn’t allowed. Private parts are just that PRIVATE!
Every family is made up differently, with that in mind, creating a network of safe adults that your child can trust, who they know will listen and believe them if something should happen or if they feel sad, uncomfortable, scared or worried is very important. This encourages them to share their thoughts and feelings much more willingly. Patiently ask questions if your child suddenly becomes withdrawn, sad, depressed or show any abnormal behaviors.
Assure your children that if something were to happen that you will not be angry, reassure them that they are loved and will be believed. This is a very crucial element, and it is always better to be safe than sorry. Children should be confident that they can trust their trusted caring adults enough to tell them when something is wrong without shame, blame or guilt.
It is important that children understand they have the right to say NO! Their Bodies, Their Rules. We want our children to understand they are in charge of their own bodies, which means they get to choose whether they give a hug, a high five or a hand shake and if they don’t feel up to it, then it is okay. It is important that they recognize they are brave, courageous and strong enough to use their words and voices to protect themselves.
Pay attention to your child’s emotional queues- if they are uncomfortable or resistant to a specific person(s) or place, find out why and don’t assume they are being rude or having a bad day. Don’t force your child to visit with any person they are not comfortable with. However, also be observant if your child becomes too fond of any particular person- adult or child, family or friends.
You know the environment you provide for your child’s safety, however, you may not necessarily know another person’s environment. Make a point of knowing what kind of play or activities your child is involved in when they are spending time with friends and family and any circumstances that can put them at risk. This includes concerns if you have any about the parental control, type of conversations and entertainment allowed by those friends and family.
Teach children that they should not keep secrets. No adult or child should ask your child to keep a secret from you, in addition talk to them about what a bribe is and to not take any candy or gifts in exchange for doing something that makes them uncomfortable.
If you need to keep certain people, activities, or anything that can threaten your child physically or mentally then do so and don’t feel guilty or apologize for it. Your child’s safety comes first.
Maintain parental control of electronic devices and use of the internet within the home. Pay attention to the websites and people your children are communicating with when online and monitor their usage.
When electronics with cameras are not in use, put tape over the camera lens, turn them down or shut them off to prevent the possibility of someone gaining unwanted access to your device camera. Teach children to not give out addresses, phone numbers, emails, or tell anyone the whereabouts of their parents or families. Even over the internet
Teach them that taking pictures of their private parts is not okay.
Create secret code words for if they are ever in a dangerous situation. Either by text or phone call that they have a safe and unsuspecting way of letting you know they need help.
Knowledge is Power and our goal is give our boys and girls the power to be safe.
Have conversations often, when the time feels natural and comfortable because we just cannot say it enough. If there is reason to suspect that there is abuse to a child remember to react responsibly. Don’t keep quiet, take up the issue, ask lots of questions and connect to the appropriate authorities. Prevention is always better than Cure. Having your children understand the value of and enjoy standing out of the crowd is rewarding, because many times the ones who are able to defend themselves and even others are the ones who stand out. They are indeed unique!
Here is an awesome, fun and informative video to help get the conversation started easily.
Questions or comments connect with me via twitter or email. Thanks for reading, Rehanna.