I’ve heard some disturbing news about a group called B4U-ACT. They just hosted a conference in Baltimore aimed at normalizing pedophilia. It was disturbing, disgusting, and some of the quoted comments made me sick. However, with that said, it made me realize I need to write this blog post. Now. Not tomorrow, not this weekend, but in this very moment.
I’m sure we’ve all heard some of the actions we can take to keep our children safe. Some of them are easy, some of them are awkward and at points in my journey, I have wondered why some of the actions are recommended. Well, lucky for you, I have answered that for you. There are some pretty universal pieces of advice for protecting children against sexual predators. Below you will find those suggested actions as well as why they are so important.
1. Making sure children are entitled to their own personal space. Children should have the right to sleep, toilet, bathe, and dress privately. Of course, safety comes first and you are the decider of when a child is capable of bathing and toileting on their own. If a child asks for privacy for this time, give them as much as possible while still maintaining a safe environment.
2. Personal space also means choosing who they kiss and hug. I’m sure we’ve all been guilty of telling our child to go give Grandma a hug or a kiss. Children should have the final decision in who they decide to be affectionate with. It’s tricky, I know. You don’t want Grandma to feel bad and you know they are a safe person, but ultimately, you’re trying to teach your child that they are in control of their body. Explain to family members that letting the child make the decision keeps them safe because they begin to realize that they don’t have to do what adults what them to do if it makes them uncomfortable.
3. Teach proper names for body parts. I have followed this rule from the beginning with my kids. Trust me; it was not easy for me to have that first conversation about a vagina with my son. I tried to dance around the issue when he asked me if I had a penis. I just told him I didn’t but he would NOT let it go so finally I had to tell him what I had. Oh, the awkwardness. Here’s the thing, there are actually several reasons for this suggestion. One is that just as kids learn rules about their other body parts (for instance, we don’t hit with our hands or we don’t pick our nose or we keep our mouths closed when we eat) we also have rules for penises and vaginas. No one touches them unless it’s to keep us safe or clean. This is a pretty broad rule and you can tailor it to fit your needs.
Another reason for this is because pedophiles use all kinds of cutesy names for these body parts to make abuse seem like a game. Ultimately, if your child knows the correct names and they are talked about in a matter-of-fact way, they will be more likely to come to you if something inappropriate has happened. They will also be able to say NO to the abuser because they know the rules for that body part.
4. Surprises are great! Secrets are not. Teach your child the difference between a secret and a surprise. “A surprise is something that is going to happen and that is going to be happy. A secret is something that is never told and a lot of times it may make you feel sad or yucky in your tummy or heart.” Secrets should never be kept about their bodies. Reassure them that you will always do whatever you can to make them have a happy heart. Let them know if something is making them feel bad, it’s your job as a parent (or caregiver or family member) to make them feel better and that you always want to know if something is making them upset. If your child feels secure in the fact that you won’t blame them and that you will always make a decision that protects and keeps them happy, they will be more likely to confide with you if something has happened.
5. Be honest and matter of fact. When talking about private parts, touching, sex, and personal safety, even if you are totally freaked out, remain calm and be honest. It does not mean you need to tell your 3 year old exactly how his brother got in Mommy’s tummy. It does mean you should tell them what will satisfy their curiosity, at an age appropriate level and most importantly, honestly. Oh, yes, it can be uncomfortable. It can make you want to crawl inside yourself, but once you start doing it you’ll be amazed at how easy it becomes.
6. Use the words “safe and unsafe touches”. If you’re a product of the 80’s like me, I’m sure you have heard of good touch/bad touch. We heard about it at school and it was a ridiculously uncomfortable lesson. Here’s the thing, we should already be talking to kids before they enter school about appropriate and inappropriate touches. Most children equate good touches with touches that feel good and bad touches with touches that hurt. Abuse does not always hurt. Children can be very confused at the fact that physically it feels good but emotionally and mentally, it is making them feel horrible. Teaching children what safe and unsafe touches are helps eradicate this confusion for the child.
So there you have it. Some important actions you can take to help protect your child and to increase the chances that he/she will tell you if something happens. It’s not always a glamorous job, right? Good luck and if you have any suggestions about how you do it with your children or the little people in your life, leave a comment and share.