Friday, June 22, 2012

Twin Teachable Moments To Talk to Your Children About Sex Abuse Prevention

The news is full of the twin horrifying trials in Pennsylvania of men who have allegedly perpetrated sexual abuse against children -- one directly of children in his care, the other by not removing priests who had abused children from direct involvement with other children.

There have been many articles and blog posts about these trials, but I have been struck that none of them have been aimed at helping parents protect their own children from possible abuse.  The "solutions" to these alarming stories have discussed legislation and registries, but not how we can empower children.

In my book "From Diapers to Dating: A Parent's Guide to Raising Sexually Healthy Children" I provided detailed information on how to educate your children to prevent sexual abuse.  Even preschoolers need to know that their bodies are good, that their bodies belong to them, that they have the right to tell someone not to touch  any part of their bodies, and to tell right away if an older child or adult has made them uncomfortable in any way.  Make sure you screen nannies and babysitters, and that your preschool does background checks on everyone who works with the children, including part time teachers, babysitters, and custodial staff.

Elementary age children need to know that sexual abuse occurs when an older, stronger, or more powerful person looks at or touches a child's genitals, and that a person who is sexually abusing a child may tell the child to keep the behavior secret.  Make sure they understand that a child is never at fault if an older child, teen, or adult touches them in a way that is wrong or uncomfortable.  Tell them that most adults would never abuse children, but children are generally hurt this way by people they know who act as if they are special to them.  Tell them to tell right away.   

Make sure that the school, Scout troops, soccer leagues, and yes churches and synagogues are doing background checks on anyone who will work with your child.  Watch out for adults who seem too interested in your child, and don't let your child spend alone time with adults one on one unless you know them well.  Empower your children to say no to requests for kisses or hugs from anyone, including relatives.  Let them know that they have the right to say no to any unwanted physical contact.

Most important, know that you may not always be able to protect your child from the first time of sexual abuse, but you can stop the second IF your children are educated to tell you right away and that they can count on you to take action.  Over and over again in these trials, we have heard adult men say that they were too afraid to tell.  Make sure your children know you want to know immediately. 

The Sandusky and Lynn trials, while traumatic to watch, are providing you with a teachable moment.  Don't let it pass for your children's sake.

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