Okay, folks — I’m about to talk about stuff no parent really wants to think about, like ever. But it’s critically important, so here it goes:
According to statistics listed on the National Sex Offender Public website, approximately 1 in 6 boys and 1 in 4 girls will be sexually abused by the age of 18. And a 2012 report found that 34% of sexual abuse victims were younger than 9 years old.
The idea of children — babies, toddlers, and young kids being victims of sexual abuse is something none of us can wrap our minds around. And yet, it happens, daily.
By the time they reach adolescence, about 1.8 million kids will have been victims of sexual abuse or assault.
If all of this doesn’t make you want to punch a wall, vomit, and keep your kids in a bubble for eternity, I don’t know what will.
But let’s push past our terror, horror, and anger for a minute, because the truth is, although we can’t control everything that happens to our kids, there are several powerful ways we can protect them from harm.
I’m talking about opening up the subject with them directly — talking about sex, bodies, and boundaries with them, from the moment they have language, really. It can be exceedingly uncomfortable at first for some of us, but it’s necessary and actually quite effective in protecting our kids from predators.
One awesome publishing company is here to help us parents as we navigate these sorts of discussions with our kids. Educate2Empower Publishing, a publishing company started in 2014 that focuses specifically on teaching kids about subjects like consent and “body safety education,” recently released a poster called “My Body Safety Rules.”
And we adore it.
The poster outlines five rules for “body safety” specifically aimed at kids, written in friendly, non-frightening language that kids can digest and understand. We think it does a fantastic job of teaching and empowering kids (and parents) to learn about and discuss body autonomy, boundaries, and sexual abuse prevention.
Check it out here (and click here for a downloadable copy of the poster)
Let’s talk about the points outlined in the poster, what they mean, and how they can make a profound and important impact on our kids.
1. “My body is my body, and it belongs to me!”
Your child doesn’t have to hug or kiss anyone they don’t want to. Anyone. Not even grandma or their great-aunt Susie. Yes, there is nothing wrong with innocent kisses and hugs, theoretically. But it’s about teaching your kids that their bodies are their own, and they are literally the only people who can decide what happens to them (except in the case of health-related concerns or medical procedures, which we will get to in a moment).
2. Our kids need to know that they have a “Safety Network.”
I love the idea of teaching your child that there are certain adults in their life who they can go to for any kind of concern or worry — people who will listen to them without shaming them, people who will believe them no matter what. Most kids know who these people are intuitively, but it makes sense to name these people for them (even if it’s a very short list of people!). Let your child help you pick out who these people are (remember, this is about their comfort more than anyone else’s). Should anything out of the ordinary happen, kids need to know who they can confide in, and they need to know beforehand that there are people who they can trust no matter how foreign or uncomfortable their feelings are — or how terrifying the situation they find themselves in.
3. Our kids should learn the “Early Warning Signs” of potential abuse or boundary violations.
When children experience a trauma, they first feel it in their bodies, and oftentimes, they don’t even really know what’s happening beyond the bodily sensations they experience. We can empower them by teaching them the signs of anxiety and discomfort that they may experience (like sweating, “butterflies” in their tummy, increased heart rate, shaking). And then, we need to make it clear to them that these feelings are real, not something to brush off, and something that they need to share with their “safety network” grown-ups.
4. Our kids should know that they don’t have to keep secrets. Ever.
Sexual abusers often swear their victims to secrecy about what happened, making them truly believe that discussing the occurrence would be a violation of trust and would hurt them (or their abusers) in ways that are more terrifying than perhaps even the abuse itself. That is why it is imperative that we teach kids that they absolutely, positively don’t need to keep secrets, from anyone. Ever. Tell your child that if anyone tells them a secret that makes them feel even remotely uncomfortable, they don’t have to keep it, and they can tell one of their “safety network” grown-ups right away.
5. Our kids need to understand that private parts are private, and they need to learn this as early as possible.
We need to start talking to our kids about their private parts as early in their lives as possible. Please don’t use euphemisms — that only makes them sound silly or embarrassing. Call them “penis,” “vagina,” “anus,” etc. You can handle it, and so can your kids. You need to be realistic and mature about it, so they will know that their private parts are nothing to be ashamed of. Our kids also need to know that their private parts belong to them, and only them. It is never appropriate for someone to touch them, unless it’s a parent (to clean or fix a “boo-boo”) or for a medical exam or procedure (in a doctor’s office, with parents present, or nearby). Our kids need know that it is not appropriate for any grown-up to ask them to touch their private parts or to expose them to our kids.
Parents: I know these are uncomfortable conversations to have. But we are typically the ones who feel the embarrassment, not our kids. Especially when our kids are little, they have no idea that it is taboo to talk about any of these things (and this is yet another reason to start the conversations early).
We need to raise kids who will be able to recognize when something inappropriate is happening or has happened. We need to raise kids who will learn how to “sniff out” inappropriate situations whenever possible, and listen to their gut if they feel that anything is remotely wrong about a person or situation they are in. And finally, we have to raise kids who will come to us with any inkling of wrongdoing.
We can’t prevent every bad thing that might happen to our kids, but we can teach them to be protective and aware of their own body autonomy. We can instill confidence in them and give them a voice to speak out against any violations.
It’s a small thing we can do, but it is vital for our children. And they most certainly deserve it.