Q: When the Jerry Sandusky case and the sexual abuse of kids were constantly in the news, a good friend and i had very different approaches to handling the situation with our families.She changed the subject (and the channel) whenever it came up. My husband and i tried to talk to the kids about how sexual predators operate, but that’s really difficult. Any advice?
A: As parents, our first inclination is to shield our children from pain.There are many times when keeping the news away from our children is the right thing to do. But when it comes to child sexual abuse, I do think that you should use the events to have conversations with your children.
Child sexual abuse occurs at an alarming rate across the country. Current statistics report that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused before their eighteenth birthday. With numbers this high, it is imperative that we arm our children (and ourselves) with as much information as we can to help keep them safe. Knowledge is power – even for young children.
A good place to start is with the fact that the overwhelming majority of children are abused by someone they know. As parents, we are much more comfortable talking to our kids about the concept of stranger danger than we are having a conversation that tells them that people they know, and maybe even love and trust, could potentially want to harm them. As difficult as it might seem, remember that it is empowering for children to know what to do if a situation should occur.Think of it like a fire drill. You don’t want it to happen, you reassure your children it won’t happen, and you take the necessary precautions to protect your home from fire.But you still practice different escape routes and tell your children what to do if they see a fire or smell smoke. The same needs to be true about child sexual abuse.
Talk to children about child sexual abuse in age appropriate terms. For the very young (5 and under), teach children the correct anatomical names for their body parts and tell them that no one should touch their body in the areas covered by a bathing suit. If someone does touch them there, they should tell you right away. Reassure them that they won’t be in trouble. As children grow older, talk to them more in depth and continue to reinforce that if someone is making them feel uncomfortable, they should tell a trusted adult (parent, relative, teacher) who will help keep them safe. Reinforce that your family doesn’t keep secrets (a technique many predators use) and that no adult should ask them to keep something from you. Reinforce that it is never the child’s fault and that telling someone is always the right thing to do. The goal isn’t to scare your child, but to inform your child. Keep your tone positive and reassuring.
As parents, know that children abuse other children. In approximately 40 percent of child sexual abuse cases, the perpetrator was an older child. Know where and with whom your children are as often as you can. Be aware of situations where your children are alone with an adult or an older youth: with a babysitter; at a private lesson; or during a planned activity. Limiting situations that involve one-on-one interaction greatly reduces the opportunities an offender has to abuse your child. Inquire about child protection policies at schools, clubs, day and overnight camps.
As a parent, use everyday opportunities as teaching moments to assist your children in being as knowledgeable as possible.