Talk About It!
Infant-to-Teen Sexual Abuse Prevention & Body Safety Education
All parents should know two truths:
- It’s NEVER too early to begin teaching children about sexual abuse prevention or “body safety”.
- Kids who KNOW body safety rules are 100% better prepared to deal with attempted sexual abuse than children who are kept in the dark.
Talking with kids about body safety doesn’t have to be difficult… just frame your conversations in ways that are age-relevant. And while you’re at it, let’s also empower our kids to take action if they ever need to.
So, how can you do that?
For starters, make a habit of practicing “Sound-bite Parenting” as your child grows… basically, share small bits (a.k.a. “sound-bites”) of information that reinforce key messages in different ways, at different times, depending on the age and development of your child.
Note: Following are general age range suggestions, so please adjust the information you share with your child based on his/her personal level of development. As your child grasps concepts or is introduced to other environmental or life influences, you may want to begin sharing certain educational concepts earlier… you know your child best!
From Elementary to “Tween”
6 – 9 years: Continue reinforcing the building blocks you’ve already established (See “Small Children = Small Lessons”). By now, your child is likely in elementary school and is being exposed to more adult themes and content in the media (including social media and the Internet), as well as through friends or older siblings and their friends.
- Reinforce that touches to non-private body parts can also feel “weird” or “uncomfortable”… an example would be a kiss to the mouth, cheek, hand or other body part that isn’t invited or welcomed. If that ever happens, your child should immediately “tell” you or another trusted adult.
- Discuss the concept of “trusted adults” and have your child specifically identify adults in whom he would feel comfortable confiding if someone should ever attempt to touch a private body part. Trusted adults could include grandparents, aunts, uncles, teachers, coaches or parents of friends.
- Don’t force your kids into hugging or kissing relatives or friends. Making them have physical contact with someone they don’t wish to flies in the face of the body safety lessons you are trying to instill. If they don’t want to hug Aunt Edna, that’s okay. Empower and support your children in identifying their own personal boundaries.
- Sexual predators are master manipulators and will use all kinds of tricks to “groom” children. Have conversations with your kids about…
- People that offer excessive gifts or special favors to your children – they should tell you right away.
- The difference between a “surprise” and a “secret”. Predators often encourage or even threaten their victims to keep abuse a “secret” and not tell anyone. Let your child know that touches to private body parts should never be kept a secret and he should immediately tell you or another trusted adult if that ever happens to them.
- Assure your child that it could never, ever be her fault if someone were to touch a private body part for no good reason or just to play a game. Predators will often blame their child victims and convince them that they are the root cause for the abuse.
- Let your child know she would never be in trouble for telling you or another trusted adult if something like this ever happened.
10 – 11 years: “Tweens” start to show greater independence and are naturally curious about issues that are more ‘adult’ in nature. They may also begin using social media and the Internet to a greater extent, both at school and at home, which presents its own set of challenges.
- Exposure to adult themes and even pornography are commonplace… 70% of youth have unintentionally stumbled across pornography while online. Did you know the average age kids are exposed to online pornography is just 11-years old?
- For children with little to no knowledge of the social standards for normal sexual behavior, pornographic images can “form their norm”, their baseline understanding for how they *think* sex and relationships are supposed to be. In fact, several reports have suggested that exposure to pornography and sexually explicit images, regardless of whether those images were accidentally or deliberately viewed, impacts a child’s sexual attitudes and can lead to unsafe or risky sexual behavior. Help your child develop his own baseline by being a solid role model and discussing how relationships should be loving, respectful and mutually fulfilling.
- NetSmartz, an initiative by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, offers online videos and terrific information for tweens (and teens) addressing a wide range of issues from social media safety to bullying to gaming.