“Sandusky was found guilty today,” my husband told me in the evening. I was glad for the news, yet as justifying as it may be to lock up a high-profile criminal, more roam free and prey on children. Many of them are close relatives or trusted friends of the family—the charming guy who earns the parents’ trust and plays well with the kids. This, compounded with my already-heightened paranoia, does not make for one happy mama.
Unlike other child safety issues like pool safety and road rules, child sexual abuse remains clouded with taboo that needs to be lifted. While we should encourage trust in others and self-sufficiency in themselves, we also need to balance their growing independence with information and a protocol to keep them safe.
Even though our toddler is only 2-years-old, we hold six general approaches that will hopefully help him understand and know what is acceptable or not (the first three we apply now while the last three we plan to tell him when he’s older and can comprehend better):
1. You have 100% jurisdiction over your body.
One of the reasons we don’t force our toddler to kiss and hug everyone is so he knows that he determines who gets to touch him. I’m also a hawk over others who want to tickle or kiss him excessively when he clearly isn’t having any of it and will step in on his behalf. With few exceptions (hygiene, health and safety, namely), we do our best to respect our toddler’s body to drive the point that his body is his own to touch.
2. It’s okay to say ‘no’ to others, even adults.
We “respect the no” and acknowledge or stop when our toddler says so. Adults have authority, but that doesn’t mean we’re always right, and we want our toddler to know that he can absolutely question and even defy authority should he feel it appropriate to do so.
3. We call our body parts by their anatomically-correct names.
Part of the taboo of child sexual abuse (or anything sexual really) is that we apply these funny names to our privates rather than using the anatomically correct names. The message? These parts can be shameful, aren’t to be mentioned, or are silly and funny. I get where this comes from; I myself have a hard time saying their names sometimes. But when an arm is called an ‘arm’ but privates are something completely different, he might assume that these issues aren’t easily talked about.
4. Trust your gut.
When something doesn’t feel right, even if it can’t be explained clearly, it’s okay to trust your gut. Predators often rely on their role as the trustworthy, charming guy or the authoritative, can’t-be-wrong guy, so it can be difficult for kids to listen to their feelings and defy people they’re supposed to trust.
5. Tell. Keep telling until someone listens.
We plan to tell our toddler that he should absolutely tell his mom or dad anything. And if we don’t listen, he should tell his grandmas. And his aunts and uncles. And his teachers. And keep telling until someone listens and acts on his behalf. I also want to ensure that there are no secrets kept between us, and that anyone saying they’ll hurt him or his family if he tells is all the more reason to speak up.
6. People have designated roles in your life, and no one should be crossing those lines.
For instance, it’s more appropriate for parents to cuddle and show physical affection with their kids than other adults. And as kids grow older, affection tends to lessen in lieu of more space and physical boundaries. Older men also shouldn’t be showering kids with gifts. And teachers should definitely not be blindfolding and giving kids cookies (or anything to eat, for that matter).
Hardly any parent wants their child to be the victim of sexual abuse; the mere thought of it makes me cry and get angry at the same time (which is why I can’t bring myself to read some of the crazy headlines in the news). Sadly, it happens far too often, and with victims so vulnerable, parents need to step up and ensure that we’re doing all that we can to keep our kids safe. Nothing is 100% guaranteed, but every little bit of action helps.
How do you educate your kids about child sexual abuse? What other tips can you offer to help protect children?
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