Please welcome my guest author, Selena Smith, who is covering the importance of body safety education for kids starting at age 3.
Parents everywhere desperately want to keep their children safe. Children are told over and over not to play in the street, always wear seatbelts, do not talk to strangers, say no to drugs, and the list goes on. However, there is one area that is often left out of these talks, and that is childhood sexual abuse.
Years ago, this was a taboo topic attached to guilt and shame; consequently, victims remained silent. This may be the reason so many adults are now coming forward. These survivors were at a loss of how to deal with this abuse as children, and now they tell their stories in hopes of helping others. I am one of these survivors, and I will be silent no more, for I am now on a public mission to help stop child sexual abuse.
Even though more attention has been brought to this issue in recent years, parents still grapple with so many questions:
- What is the right age to talk to my child?
- How do I approach the topic?
- How much detail do I go into?
- How do I deal with the situation if my child tells me he/she has been abused?
There is now an abundance of online resources where answers to these questions can be found as more and more fight to resolve this issue afflicting society. Darkness to Light, National Sexual Violence Resource Center, Child Welfare Information Gateway, and Childhelp are just a few of the organizations parents can turn to for sexual abuse awareness and prevention information, answers, and tools.
First and foremost, the most effective strategy to ending sexual abuse is education. Education is important for parents because they must know what they are up against in order to protect their children against it. According to Darkness to Light, 1 in 10 children will be sexually abused before their 18th birthdays. This statistic does not include non-physical forms of sexual abuse such as showing child pornography, voyeurism, etc.
Alarmingly, over 90% of sexual abuse comes from someone the child knows – a neighbor, teacher, coach, older child, family member or friend, etc. Parents spend time discussing stranger danger when, in reality, they need to be wary of their own acquaintances who groom children for the very purpose of taking advantage. Parents also need to know the signs of sexual abuse, which are not physically obvious. Extreme changes in behavior, return to bedwetting, loss of interest in school, anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, and eating disorders are a few of the signs. In addition, sexually abused children are more likely to become promiscuous, cut themselves, have relationship and trust issues, develop health problems, and abuse drugs. Children who are sexually abused face a lifetime of problems.
Furthermore, education is essential for children as well – not statistics and such, but understanding good and bad touch. The ideal age to begin talking to a child about inappropriate touch is three years old. Of course, the depth of conversation will depend on the maturity of the child. There are materials out there to help get this talk underway.
One of them is my children’s book called Joey Wants to Know: A Parent-Child Guide to Inappropriate Touch for ages 3 to 12. This book uses adorable kangaroos to teach this message in a non-threatening way. I have read it in daycares, classrooms, and libraries. Children love the cute characters, and they understand the message that is taught through it. This book features Joey, a young male kangaroo, and Jacky, his younger sister. Together, they ask their mother about various touches such as a handshake from the mailman, a hug from grandma, a pat on the head for a job well done, and a tap on the shoulder from a classmate who wants to borrow a pencil.
Once they understand there is nothing wrong with those touches, the youngsters want to know what is considered a bad touch. Their loving mother, Mama Kaye, explains there should be no touching where bathing suits cover and what to do if they ever receive a bad touch. Each book also comes with a free audio download, so the book can basically “read itself” while children follow along, thus helping with literacy and word recognition. There are plenty of other children’s books on the market too, but sadly you won’t find many on shelves in bookstores. Most of them must be ordered online.
If you do discover that your child has been abused, contact your local police department and social services. Also, contact the nearest children’s advocacy center, which will assist you tremendously. Remember that child sexual abuse is a crime and is punishable by law. Do not try to handle it yourself. Instead, seek assistance to get your child the help he/she needs. Also, visit Darkness to Light for helpful suggestions in dealing with sexual abuse.
The greatest weapon we have in the fight against child sexual abuse is education. Educating children early and opening the lines of communication about this topic is vital to prevention. Too many times education follows the abuse when it needs to precede and prevent. I encourage you to talk to your children today about inappropriate touch and what to do if it happens. It seems like such a simple solution to solve a complicated problem, but it works!
Selena Smith is a National Board Certified public school teacher in North Carolina in her 19th year of teaching. She is married to a teacher as well, and they have two daughters. She is the author of Joey Wants to Know: A Parent-Child Guide to Inappropriate Touch and lesson plans to accompany this book called Teaching Inappropriate Touch And So Much More. She is a speaker/writer for child sexual abuse awareness and prevention.
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