by Cari Borremans
The #MeToo movement has become a common talking point in our culture, media, and perhaps even our households. Talking to your children about it, however, may seem a daunting task. Think back to when (or if) your parents talked to you about sex.
Chances are you didn’t get a lot of information and the conversation was almost certainly awkward and uncomfortable. The good news is it doesn’t have to be that way with your kids. April is Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Awareness Month. Each day 185 children in Texas will be victims of abuse. 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will experience sexual abuse before their 18th birthday. Talking to your children about these issues may not prevent it from happening, but may encourage them to tell you if something does happen. It’s always good to remember that children
are going to get information about these issues somewhere, it may as well be from you.
Start by teaching your children the anatomical names of their body parts. When children know and hear the words to describe their body parts, they may be more comfortable asking questions about them and expressing concern about them. Don’t whisper the names of their genitals. If a child hears a word whispered it may create a sense of shame or secrecy about what is being discussed. While using anatomical names of their body parts openly, it is also important to teach them that some body parts are private and just for them. No one else should touch them or look at them. Children need autonomy over their bodies. There are certain parts of their bodies that only they can touch and no one is allowed to hurt any part of their body.
Teach your children to trust their gut and that it’s okay to say “no”. This message isn’t obvious to children as we often expect them to do what we tell them. Children need to know that if a touch makes them uncomfortable, they can refuse that touch. This can be awkward at family gatherings when relatives ask for hugs from them, but if your child is uncomfortable being hugged or touched by a relative, support your child’s right to say no. It is also important to teach children to respect others’ boundaries. If someone says “stop”, your child should respect that and stop whatever behavior they are doing. Learning to set their own boundaries and respect others’ boundaries at an early age will help children grow into adults who can set healthy boundaries.
Children need to understand secrets. Abusers often use secret keeping to manipulate children. It is helpful to tell children early and often that no adult should ask a child to keep a secret. If any adult asks them to keep a secret they need to tell a parent or a safe or trusted adult right away. Along the same lines, unknown adults don’t need help from children. If a stranger ever asks your child to help them with something, the child needs to tell you immediately.
Be a safe place for your child to share information. Children are often worried that they will get in trouble or upset their parents by talking about their experiences. Reassure them that they won’t get punished for sharing experiences with you.
Give your children your time and undivided attention when they come to you with something they feel is important. It is so easy in this day and age to “listen” to your children while you are also texting or scrolling through your phone. When your child wants to tell you about something, let them know that their concerns and thoughts are important to you. This makes it more likely that they will come to you with concerns in the future. Your kids may have weird or unusual questions. Be prepared for that and be prepared to answer their question in a way they can understand it.
These conversations need to continue with teenagers. Keep them engaged in talking about sexual assault and child abuse. You can use the media to make this relevant. Ask them how they feel about something in social media or in the news. Talk to them directly. Teens get a lot of their information from peers and social media. They may misunderstand the concepts of sexual assault and child abuse. Provide them with statistics. Let them know that 90% of child sexual assaults are perpetrated by someone known to the victim, according to the National Children’s Alliance website.
Teach your teens about victim blaming and why it’s not okay. Encourage them to ask questions and talk to you. If your teen doesn’t feel comfortable asking you questions, encourage them to talk to a different trusted adult.
The #MeToo movement may have started the conversation in your home, but it doesn’t have to end there. Bring these issues up early and often to help create a safer future for our children. And remember, if you haven’t yet talked to your children about these issues, it’s not too late.
The following article is the second article of a five-week series focusing on raising awareness about sexual assault and child abuse. April is both Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Awareness month and it is our hope to educate our local community on these two serious issues.