How to Teach Your Kids to Protect Themselves Against Sex Abuse

Apr 26, 2018 | Child Sex Abuse, Parenting, Sexual Exploitation

A Note from American SPCC: 
April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month and also Sexual Assault Awareness Month,  annual observances in the United States dedicated to raising awareness of preventing child abuse and sexual assault.
Did you know that each week, the equivalent of a classroom of American children is lost forever due to abuse, neglect, and bullying?
That’s 5 children a day!
At American SPCC, we believe childhood should be fun for kids. A time to be nurtured, loved and protected. What happens to kids during childhood shapes who they become as adults.
Kids need our voice like never before! 
Join us this month as we shine a light on the epidemic of child abuse and neglect and encourage America to nurture and protect our children.
Stand up and speak up!  Let’s come together to ensure that every child has a chance to become a happy, healthy, and productive adult.

How to Teach Your Kids to Protect Themselves Against Sex Abuse

Have these conversations early on and often.
The topics of sexual abuse and harassment have been all over the media. The Weinstein scandal. The #metoo movement. And most recently the Nassar sexual abuse trial. One reminder that has come out of this is the importance of talking to our children about sexual violence prevention. But how do we as parents do that?
These can be uncomfortable conversations to have and sometimes the easiest thing is to not talk about it or assume that schools will handle it. However, as aversive as the topic is, we as parents cannot stick our heads in the sand and pretend the problem doesn’t exist–because by doing so we can actually increase our children’s risk of sexual abuse. Below are some tips for starting and continuing the conversation about sexual violence prevention with your children:

1. Sexual education and sexual abuse prevention are intertwined.

While talking about the birds and the bees may seem distinct from discussions about abuse and sexual harassment, it’s not. Research shows that children and teens who knew more about healthy sexual behavior (at age-appropriate levels) and who are not afraid to discuss it with their parents are less likely to be victimized.

2. Start the conversation early.

You might think that discussions about sex and sexual violence prevention should wait until children are older and dating, but by then it may be too late. Hard to believe, but these conversations should start when your children are as little as toddlers. For instance, you should use correct anatomical names for sexual organs (penis, vagina) with kids that young. When the questions about where babies come from arise, you can explain what happens biologically (i.e. there is an egg and seed/sperm that come together and get fertilized to grow a baby). As children grow, so should the level of your conversations, explaining how women get pregnant, what takes place during puberty, but also explaining how to deal with unwanted remarks or touching.

3. Just do it.

Talking about sexual behavior and sexual abuse might be hard for us to do. It might conjure up the awkward conversations of our own youth—but the best way to get over the discomfort is to just do it. Your children will get cues from you. If they sense that you are uncomfortable or skirting topics, they will learn that these are embarrassing topics or things they should be ashamed to talk about. And they will be less likely to talk to you should something inappropriate or harmful occur.

4. Let your children know that they are in charge of their bodies.

When children are young, family and friends will sometimes want to kiss them, even when the child doesn’t want it. If a child doesn’t want to be touched, we have to give the child the right to say no—because by letting an adult overpower them with their own desire to kiss and hug them teaches them that they have no control. This may cause some problems with Grandma, Grandpa or Aunt Shirley, but more importantly, it teaches your child that they decide who touches them and that they have the right to say no. The same goes for tickling. Though we love tickling our children, we do need to respect them when they ask for us to stop. In fact, letting them stay “stop” and “go” can become part of the game.

5. It is not just one talk.

The dreaded sex talk has been portrayed humorously in many movies. But it shouldn’t be one talk. This should be a conversation that starts when children are young and continues as your children age. You want to be the one they turn to when they have questions or concerns. Thus, you have to make it easy for them to share and learn from you. The best times to do this are when you are having alone time with your child—this may be bedtime, when you go for walks or when you are driving them around in the car. Children sense when we are uncomfortable as adults, so the best thing you can do is to work on being comfortable yourself with these conversations. The more often you have them, the more natural they will become.

6. Get them thinking critically.

This is a skill that parents can teach starting when they are young. Ask your children for their opinions on things—like how other people behaved and how they could have handled it differently. Explain why certain behavior is inappropriate and why. As they get older you can bring up things you may have seen on TV or in the news regarding sexual assault and harassment. Simply telling your child what is right or wrong is not as helpful as getting them thinking critically. We want to help them form their own values and beliefs such that they can critically evaluate situations in the future.

7. Don’t give up.

As our children grow up and become teenagers they seem not to want to listen to us anymore, but this doesn’t mean that we should stop talking to them. As much as they don’t want to admit it, they still hear and care about what we have to say. We as parents just have to be more creative. You can send them links to articles, leave books in their rooms, communicate via text messaging or talk to them in less-formal environments, like when you’re driving the car and they don’t have to look directly at you. A lot of teenagers report feeling much safer knowing that they can call or text their parents when they are in trouble or in a situation where they feel uncomfortable and their parents will come—no questions asked. So just continue to let them know that you are there and available to talk or help if they need you, and they will reach out.

8. Practice what you preach.

Children model what they see their parents doing. Therefore, it is very important to be a good role model for them in your relationships. If you are in a relationship, treat your partner with respect. If you have a disagreement, model proper problem-solving. This will show your children how they deserve to be treated and how they should treat others.

For more information on this topic, check out Drs. Jeglic and Calkins’ new book,Protecting Your Child from Sexual Abuse: What You Need to Know to Keep Your Kids Safe.

Kid’s need our voice like never before!
American SPCC encourages you to join us as we help create a brighter future for children. Through advocacy and help resources we create real impact in families and communities.
We must protect our kids and do what’s right for them. 
TAKE ACTION and start making a positive difference in the life of a child!
Together, we can ensure that each generation has a better chance at a brighter future than the one before.

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