12% of children under the age of 12 are affected by some sort of sexual offence. In addition, 24% of children between the ages of 12 and 15 are affected by some type of sexual offence.
Based on these statistics it is important for children to understand what constitutes a sexual offence and sexual abuse, and what they should do in the event that they experience it. Young children and teenagers need to be able to understand the basic steps that are necessary in identifying and reporting sexual abuse. Educating children and giving them such tools, will do them better in the long run if they experience sexual abuse as an adult.
The Body as a Taboo
The first important thing that parents can do to teach their kids about sexual abuse is teaching their children about their body. This includes teaching children the proper names for their body parts. When parents teach their kids the proper names for their body parts, children will be more comfortable talking about these body parts. In the event that children experience a sexual offence or sexual abuse, when it comes to talking about it, they will be more comfortable talking about their body parts and what happened. By breaking down this barrier, there can be more open channels of communication in which children are less constrained by their lack of vocabulary and knowledge.
When teaching children the proper names of different body parts, it is also important to teach children what body parts are private. The body parts that are private are not for everyone to see. In teaching them who can and can’t see their private parts, they will have to explain to them the difference between you, as a parent, seeing them and another adult seeing them. Additionally, it is vital to teach kids why it is important that parents know if something is wrong with the child. Parents can make doctors’ appointments and help children feel better when something is wrong with their body.
Setting Boundaries From an Early Age
Boundaries are another important concept to teach children. Boundaries will help children understand who is and isn’t allowed to see their private parts. Boundaries should be set for children by parents and also defined by the parents. When defining the boundaries, you want to explain to your child why you are setting those boundaries, what is safe and what isn’t safe. Children should know that it’s okay for Mommy and Daddy to see because we are your parents and we care for you. When teaching these boundaries to children, it is also important to outline that no one else is allowed to touch them because those people may be dangerous. Even aunts and uncles should not be touching or looking at private parts despite them being family; they are not a part of the boundaries set by you and your spouse. Kids should also know that these boundaries are not just limited to people looking at or touching their private parts. This also includes people taking pictures, and making inappropriate references and/or jokes.
The New York Times cites that teaching kids about consent from a young age also aids in teaching your children how to avoid sexual abuse. Consent in this sense can easily be explained in terms of hugs, high fives, candy, and so many other things that apply to kids. “When someone says no to a hug, they mean no and we have to respect that. Sometimes people don’t want hugs and that’s okay. Always ask someone before you give them a hug." This is an example of how you can teach your child about consent in a way that applies to them. If you are talking to an older child or teenager using the word consent, then perhaps outright discussing sexual situations is the best way to go because they understand the context of the situation better. Consent is something that should be discussed with kids at all ages as it also pertains to boundaries. If someone outside of your child’s boundary is asking them to touch them or take a picture of their private parts, they will understand this is bad, and why this is bad, and they can take the proper steps they have learned to understand that this behaviour is unacceptable.
Opening Channels of Communication Through Validation
Another very important thing that children should learn from a very young age is how to be vocal about things that make them uncomfortable. Teaching children to use their voice from a young age will empower them to speak up when something doesn’t feel right. When teaching your child how to speak up when something isn’t right or uncomfortable it is also important that they feel validated. If your child speaks up about something that they don’t think is right and you invalidate them, they are going to be less likely to tell you something in the future. Validating your child’s feelings or things that make them uncomfortable is as easy as saying “I hear you and I want to talk about it more, so I understand more."
If your child speaks up about something that they don’t think is right and you invalidate them, they are going to be less likely to tell you something in the future. Validating your child’s feelings or things that make them uncomfortable is as easy as saying “I hear you and I want to talk about it more, so I understand more."
Doing this from a young age promotes a healthy conversation and relationship between parent and child. This can also allow them to disclose something as uncomfortable as sexual abuse or assault without feeling like you will be upset with them. Teaching your child to speak up for themselves is not only applicable to sexual abuse and uncomfortable situations but also situations such as bullying, racism and many more important issues.
Children need to know they have a safe space to talk about these things with parents. Even if it is just learning with parents about what is okay and what isn’t okay. Teaching your children about sexual abuse is such an important concept to be integrated into parenting techniques, and is hopefully made easier by these aforementioned ideas.
Written By: Eve Munaro