As parents, we are faced with more than a few challenging conversations with our children. Over the course of their childhood we address tough topics like drugs, alcohol, puberty, religion, bullying and dating. We might share some of our own pasts so they know that we draw our rules and recommendations from personal experience. One of the most difficult talks is about molestation and early sexualization, but it is one we need to have with them several times over different stages of their lives. As a survivor of both, I tried to put together some tips for talking to your children about sexual abuse.
- Start teaching them early that their body belongs to them. During bath time with a toddler, begin with teaching them the proper names of their body parts without cutesy terms. At the same time, add in that there is a significant difference when it comes to privacy. “An arm is an arm and a penis is a penis. Your arm is out in the open, but your penis is part of your private area.”
- Over time, move on to ownership when they have enough ability to wash their own privates with supervision. Yes, you wash your own vagina. It is yours and part of your private area. No one should touch it but you.
- During these early years, you probably have mentioned to them about Stranger Danger. Before my children attended preschool, we shared a fantastic video from John Walsh called The Safe Side – Stranger Safety. What I love about it is that not only is fun for the kids to watch but it addresses both strangers and people *they only kinda know*. The video can be shown to kids of all ages and is perfect for that Second Voice (meaning other than yours) that children sometimes need to have before allowing something to sink in.
- As I mentioned, the video brings up a point that I believe you CANNOT stress enough. While Stranger Danger is a real threat, it should not be your focus. In fact, most sexual abuse is committed by someone the child already knows. According to the APA (American Psychological Association), only 10% of sexual molestation crimes are done by strangers. So please make sure in every conversation about personal safety, mention that it doesn’t matter if it is an uncle, a neighbor down the street, their best friend’s father, or a teacher – no one has the right to touch them without permission, especially their private areas.
- All the people I mentioned in #4 were adults, but over 20% of these events happen with someone under the age 18. Depending upon the age gap with level of understanding, different labels are sometimes used such as peer to peer sexual abuse or early sexualization. The point to get across to them by age 8 or so is that even if the person is a friend, it is not appropriate to be touched there or in any way that makes them uncomfortable. I was 9 the first time I was inappropriately touched by a neighbor boy down the street only a couple of years older than I and every time something like that happened to me in later years, it was by also someone I knew and trusted.
- By middle school, the bond of trust you have created with your children over the years is what will serve you now. Continue to keep conversations going about the changes in their bodies, who the latest crush is along with more serious talks about relationships in general. Self-esteem issues and the biological need to become more independent that come with this age group means that reminders that they are loved unconditionally should be coming from you often. This is the age that many preteens tend to suspend their belief that Mom and Dad know best.
- Moving into high school brings new dangers such as date rape and dating violence. Do you remember that teenage mentality where you are aware that bad things happen but you just know those things would never happen to you? Both happened to me and they can happen to anyone’s child. Do more than just talk about these possibilities. Find courage to push past the awkwardness of these conversations to role-play different situations and what they can do to get out of them. Agree to have a code word strategy so they can get out of tough situations and yet blame you for their reason for leaving. Throughout every conversation, remind them they are not responsible for someone else’s actions. If they wind up in a situation that they cannot get safely get out of, they need to know that you will believe them, support them and love them. If they have any doubts, they will keep everything a secret and spend a lifetime recovering.
- If the worst ever does happen, call RAINN at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) to make sure your child has all the tools available for them to get through it with a healthy mind. They are there for child and adult survivors of rape, abuse and incest. They also have special safe anonymous help for those in the military.
As parents, you do everything you know how to protect your children. You can follow all the advice in the world and bad things can still happen. Please know that just as sexual abuse is not your child’s fault, it is NOT YOURS either. Life happens and you may need to take advantage of professional help also so that you can be strong for your child.
Before I leave you, sexual abuse happens to boys too. It is believed as many as 1 in 6 men deal with unwanted or abusive sexual experiences growing up. These conversations need to include both genders both as victims and as predators.
xoxo ~ Melissa
Edited To Add: DISCLOSURE – the link to the video I am recommending is an affiliate link to Amazon. That means if you choose to purchase the video using that specific link, I would make a small commission on the sale. For more information on this, please see my PR Friendly Disclosure Page. Thank you!