Sex Ed: Preventing Abuse of the Young Child
Many “experts” today, in their rush to always make kids feel good about their sexuality and in their hesitancy to establish any moral norms whatsoever, recommend parental tolerance of even the most outrageous of childhood sexual experiences. This is unwise. Establishing clear norms for acceptable and unacceptable behavior for your child is part of protecting them. It’s part of helping them enforce clear boundaries of protection for themselves. The best way to prevent abuse of your children is to build their character (Chapter 3) by giving them the beliefs, skills, and supportive environment that will best protect them.
Critical beliefs include “rules” that serve to protect kids. Most discussions of rules for children boil down to three crucial rules (in words for children):
1. Your body is private. “Your body, like the bodies of all other children, is yours alone. Your body is private, especially your genital area (your penis or vagina). God wants that part of you to be private. No one has the right to look at or touch you there except Mommy or Daddy when we bathe you or think you might be sick there, and the doctor when he or she examines you there.”
2. Don’t keep secrets. “You must never keep a secret about anyone who looks at or touches you there. Some people may try to touch you there or ask if they can, and then may tell you that you have to keep it a secret. They may even tell you that we will be mad at you and that we want you to keep it secret. That is a lie. We will protect you, but we can only protect you if you tell us the truth. We will never be angry at you if you tell us something like that; we will be so happy you did the right thing in telling. Remember, if anyone ever asks you to keep a secret of touching from us, it is always wrong, even if that person is a police officer, your teacher, a minister, or a nurse or doctor.”
3. Trust your feelings. “Your body belongs to you. We will trust you, and we want you to trust your own feelings if you feel bad about or don’t like the way someone touches you or looks at you. You don’t have to kiss or hug someone you don’t like. When you don’t like what other kids or grownups are doing, if it makes you feel uncomfortable, then we want you to trust your feelings and leave.”
But it is not enough to give children the right rules. We also need to empower them to be able to act by those rules. Part of this empowerment comes from encouraging the development of certain critical skills or strengths in your children.
Recognize danger. The first of these is the thinking skill of being able to recognize danger situations. It is not enough to tell your children the rule about trusting their feelings, or about “good touch and bad touch.” You need to encourage them to be aware of their feelings and to develop that awareness. Pay attention to how they report their interactions with other kids at school or in the neighborhood. And when they talk about a child or adult who acts in a shady or inappropriate way, ask what they felt and praise them for being aware of their reactions. Praise their good judgment. Try not to encourage paranoia, but teach them caution. Also, talk about abuse incidents that happened to other children and how your child can be wary of such situations.
Be assertive. The critical action skill is assertiveness. Unfortunately, parents and society tend to teach girls to be docile and passive, and this seems to be a particular problem in Christian homes. We must not confuse the Christian virtues of gentleness, kindness, meekness, and even submissiveness with weakness. <abbreviated>
Creating a supportive environment for your child means encouraging your child to talk to you, to trust her feelings the way you want her to, and taking action to protect her so that she can definitely trust you, the parent.
Stand behind your children. This involves, in part, being willing to stand behind your children when they don’t want to hug an older cousin or choose not to sit in Uncle Sam’s lap. Praise the child for being polite but assertive: “Thank you, Uncle Sam, for having us to your house, but no, I do not want to sit on your lap right now.” Support them to others who don’t like their choices: “No, I’m not really concerned that Meghan might seem rude; I want her to be polite but also strong. She may not always make the perfect choices, but I won’t always be there to help her make choices, so I’m glad to see her willing to make some on her own now.” Tell your kids you are proud of the strength they show.
Reinforce three critical rules. Creating a supportive environment also means reminding children occasionally of the three critical rules we described above. It means reminding them that there are to be no secrets where their bodies are concerned. Their bodies are private, a special gift from God.
Be aware of your child’s world. Finally, creating a supportive environment means taking the time to be aware of your child’s world. We need to have a sense of which kids in the neighborhood and school are trustworthy and which are not. We need to gently encourage our child to forge friendships that are likely to be safe and positive. We need to develop a sense of which parents are wise, supportive, and in agreement with our general goals for raising children. We may need to go to some lengths of sacrifice to make our own home a center for childhood play, a center where we can carefully supervise what goes on.
All of these steps will make it less likely that our children will be victims of sexual molestation. But even the best preparations cannot perfectly guard them.