I was molested as a child. Sadly, this does not make me unique. One in four women will be sexually abused in her lifetime and one in six men. This is not reassuring to any parent. But we need to understand that this is a real risk to our kids. And we need to understand what to do to protect our kids.
I was molested over a period of about seven years by two different men—my father and my grandfather. I never told. This is extremely common. Most perpetrators are known by their victims and most victims don’t tell.
How do you protect your children when they are most likely to be hurt by someone they love and trust? And how do you create an environment in which a child is more likely to tell you if they are being abused?
Do not teach your child to respect and obey adults.
This is a big one. Many parents are afraid of this idea. We have this cultural concept that children are to respect and obey adults. So, we actively teach our children this rule. We may also teach our children about private parts and to tell us when someone touches them. But the two rules are contradictory and if we are teaching obedience to adults, it’s likely that the obedience rule is emphasized far more often than personal safety. If a child is being molested by an adult, he may wrongly believe that it is his fault. He may feel that he must obey the adult’s request to comply simply because an adult has asked him to. He may be afraid of the consequences of telling about the events because he was uncertain what to do when the two rules collided. Instead of teaching obedience to adults, just teach basic human respect.
Don’t force your child to hug or kiss anyone.
We often want our kids to be perceived as “nice” by our friends and family. We see hugging and kissing as a proper social behavior. But if your child does not want to hug or kiss someone, don’t force her. If you force her, you are teaching her to ignore her own feelings about what is acceptable touching of her own body. Her feelings about who can and who cannot touch her body should always be respected at all times. This sends a powerful message to her that she is allowed to say “no” to someone, even an adult, even a relative or friend, whenever she wants to. And you will back her up on that.
Allow your child to question you.
Again, this goes to the issue of blind obedience. We don’t want to encourage blind obedience. We want our children to be critical thinkers. If you ask your child to do something and he asks why, answer him. Have a reasonable conversation with about why you are asking him to do whatever it is you requested. He will learn to discern fallacious arguments from reasonable arguments through discussions with you. Yes, this takes more time. But you are protecting him from other adults in the world you may want to take advantage of him. He will feel empowered to ask a predator why as well. The predator may not be able to provide a valid argument. He will expect one.
Teach your child to listen to her intuition.
This is critical. You are born with intuition. This is that gut feeling you get when something is wrong. Often children are forced to disregard their intuition due to other rules they are given, such as obedience to adults. explain to your child that while it is appropriate to listen to her teacher at school, she is only required to do so, so long as what the teacher asks is right. If she feels that what the teacher is asking her to do is wrong, she may decline. Tell her that you will back her up and she will never get in trouble for refusing to obey. You will discuss the issue with her afterward and decide what to do from there. Kids need to feel empowered to act on their intuition.
Listen to your child.
If you are not willing to listen to your child’s silly stories, why should she expect you to listen to her important ones? I know it gets difficult at times to listen to long, drawn-out stories about why the doll didn’t like the other doll or a re-cap of an entire 13-chapter book. But you have to establish that trust with your child that you are a trustworthy listener. These stories she is telling you are important to her, even if they seem silly to you. When something awful happens to her, she may not believe you want to know, if you have not already demonstrated that you are happy to hear anything she wants to share. Pay attention when she is talking to you. You never know what the next story might be.
Tell your child that he is always to decide what is right before he decides to comply with an adult request. While you expect him to comply with reasonable adult requests, you also expect him to do what is right. No adult is immune from morality. If you ask him to rob a bank someday or hurt a kitten, you expect that he will tell you “no” and not do it.
Treat the human body as a normal part of life.
Kids should be exposed from birth onward to nudity. We don’t want to pass on a sense of shame or that the human body needs to be hidden. Parents and siblings are the most natural source of this information. As the child gets older, opposite gender parents need to begin to cover up. That’s when parents can begin to educate the child about private parts and privacy. Never force a child to cover up until she is ready. Privacy is instinctual for kids. This is about appropriate privacy, not about hiding or shame. Always use the correct names for private parts. We are educating our children about their bodies, not trying to say an arm is okay to talk about but a “vuh-jay-jay” is just too shameful to mention. These are powerful messages. We want to send the right ones.
A combination of building a positive body image and healthy understanding of privacy along with a strong sense of self and the ability to say no to adults goes very far in helping kids to protect themselves from sexual molestation. We have to empower our kids to not only protect themselves but feel able to tell us the very first time something goes wrong. We have to teach them that we are safe to talk to, that we will back them up, that we will listen.
Have the courage to empower your kids. Don’t let them become a statistic. The damage lasts a lifetime and I can assure you, the steps to prevent it are well worth the effort.
What have you taught your children to protect them from becoming victims of sexual abuse? Do you have personal experience with sexual abuse or sexual assault? What are your thoughts on teaching children personal safety?
- My Broken Daughter
- I was raped by my brother (smh.com.au)
- Children, Genitalia, And Plain Talk… (darkactsbible.wordpress.com)