Keeping Kids Sexually Safe (page 2)
Keeping Kids Sexually Safe
Before children can crawl, they learn that giving and receiving affection-like kissing, hugging, and being close to another person-can feel good. Adults know that while touch is a basic need and part of being human, some touch can be inappropriate. As parents and caregivers it's crucial that you help your children learn the difference between "good" and "bad" touch, and how to set boundaries related to their own bodies.
What to Say to Your Children
In an effort to protect very young children from harm, discussions about sexual abuse prevention need to be simple, and the messages need to be clear. Essentially children need to know which body parts are considered "private," and taught to say "NO" if someone touches them in a way that makes them uncomfortable, asks them to touch their own or someone else's "private parts," or asks them to show their "private parts" to someone else. They also need to be assured that no matter what happens, sexual abuse is not their fault and they should tell a trusted adult even if they are told to keep it a secret. These messages can be shared through an initiated conversation or as "teachable moments" occur. As children enter the pre-teen and teen years, they begin to separate from parents and caregivers and have more experiences without adult supervision. For this reason, it's important to help young people establish boundaries, identify respectful and disrespectful interactions, develop assertiveness skills, and talk about what to do if they ever experience sexual abuse, assault, or harassment. The definitions below can be a starting point for these important conversations.
Sexual abuse refers to any unwanted or uncomfortable situation that can include touching "private parts," or exposing young people to pornographic materials, taking videos or other recordings, or being forced to watch a sexual act.
Sexual assault occurs when a person forces another person to have any type of intimate contact. It can involve physical or psychological force. When assault involves penetration, it is defined as rape.
Sexual harassment is any repetitive, unwanted, and uninvited sexual attention such as teasing, touching, or taunting.
Sharing Messages about Sexual Abuse, Harassment, and Assault with Your Children During "Teachable Moments"
Sexual abuse, harassment, and assault are important topics to talk about with your children. Having these conversations can help your children protect themselves if they are ever in situations that make them feel unsafe or uncomfortable. Before talking with your children, it's helpful to consider the messages you want to share. Perhaps you want to share the following using clear, age-appropriate language.
Messages for Young People Ages Five through Eight:
- One's body belongs to oneself.
- There are parts of one's body that are considered to be private, including one's mouth, nipples, breasts, chest, penis, scrotum, vagina, vulva, and buttocks.
- No one should touch the "private parts" of a child's body except for health reasons or to clean them.
- Children should not touch the "private parts" of other people's bodies.
- Child sexual abuse is when someone touches the "private parts" of a child's body without a health or hygiene reason.
- Sexual abuse can also occur when someone asks a child to touch the "private parts" of his/her body.
- Both boys/men and girls/women can be sexually abused.
- Everyone, including children, has the right to tell others not to touch their body when they do not want to be touched.
- If a child experiences unwanted or uncomfortable touching, he/she should tell a trusted adult, even if he/she was told to keep it a secret.
- Children can be sexually abused by a stranger or by someone they know.
- A child is never at fault if a person-even a family member-touches him/her in a way that is wrong or uncomfortable.
- If a stranger tries to get a child to go with him/her, the child should run and tell a parent, teacher, neighbor, or other adult.
- Most people would never abuse children.
Messages for Young People Ages Nine through 12:
- Sexual abuse is very common, even though many people do not want to talk about it.
- Sexual abuse is most often committed by someone the child knows.
- An abuser can be an adult, a teenager, or child, and can be male or female.
- Most sexual abuse involves some kind of secrecy, bribery, trickery, threat, or force.
- If a child experiences unwanted or uncomfortable touching, he/she should tell a trusted adult; if that adult doesn't believe or help him/her, the child should tell another adult, and keep telling until someone helps.
- Sexual abuse may or may not involve touch.
- When people are sexually abused they can have many conflicting emotions including feeling confused, angry, scared, guilty, ashamed, alone, worthless, depressed, and helpless, or feeling special, wanted, loved, needed, and cared for.
- There are many people who can help young people who have been abused, including school counselors, teachers, doctors, religious leaders, and police.
- Although chatting or meeting people online can be fun, individuals should be cautious because it can be unsafe.
- Some people use the Internet to trick young people into sexually abusive situations.
- Sexual harassment is unwanted and uninvited sexual attention such as teasing, touching, or taunting.
- Sexual harassment is against the law.
- Your school's sexual harassment policy is
Tips to Help Parents and Caregivers Talk with Their Children
- Do not wait until your children ask questions.
- Know and practice the messages that you want to share.
- Seek "teachable moments" -daily opportunities that occur when you are with your children-that make it easy to share your messages and values.
- Let your children know that you are open to talking with them about these important issues.
- Try to understand your children's point of view.
- Provide pamphlets, books, and other age-appropriate, medically accurate materials.
- If you don't know how to answer your children's questions, offer to find the answers or look them up together.
- Find out what your children's schools are teaching about these topics.
- Stay actively involved in your children's lives.
Reprinted with the permission of the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States. © 2005 SIECUS.
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