Summer has sprung. The flowers are in full bloom and the children are enjoying swimming, camping and playing outside.
No more school. How do you continue to educate your youth through the summer? Do you educate your youth on their bodies and health boundaries?
As parents we have a delicate but crucial job to educate our youth on healthy sexuality and boundaries. This is a difficult and uncomfortable topic but with clear communication we can work to impact sexual violence for our youth. Keep it simple and age appropriate.
• Start early and talk often. This is not a one-time conversation. Keep it simple and easy to remember. As your child gets older you can introduce more rules and specifics. Sexual assaults happen in daily life.
• Use every day moment’s. For example: reading time, over a treat or at bed/bath time. Choose a time when you are comfortable and relaxed. Let them know you want to have a conversation about safety.
Try starting with general safety like wearing a helmet when you are on a bike. It is normal to feel uncomfortable and nervous but emphasize that this is important. These should be ongoing conversations. Make sure your children learn the rules and skills to stay safe by going over them often.
• Use concrete examples: You are at a friend’s house and their older brother wants to play a game that makes you feel uncomfortable. Remember that 90 percent of situations where a child is sexually harmed, the child knows who is acting in a sexually inappropriate way.
Let them know that sometimes people we love and care about don’t understand the rules and touch kids in ways they’re not supposed. Let them know they can come to you or someone they trust if something ever happens to them.
• Talk about touch. Sexual touch can be confusing. In a strictly physical sense, sexual touch can feel good. This can create more shame and confusion.
Talk with them about “secret” touch or touch that makes them feel uncomfortable. Let them know that “your body is yours and yours alone and you always have a right to say no.”
• Explain about tricks or bribes. The abusive person might promise a gift or they might tell them it’s their fault or no one will believe.
Explain that these are tricks and that if someone does touch you it is never your fault and I will believe you.
• Clarify the rules. Make sure the child is aware of what is and isn’t appropriate. If you notice a child is taking their clothes off and playing doctor that you address the situation calmly and acknowledge that that behavior is not appropriate.
• Model healthy boundaries. Model saying “no” and how to respect people’s boundaries.
• Be approachable. By having honest and open conversations with our youth we send the message that we are someone that they can talk to even when something has happened. You want to handle these conversations calmly and reassuringly.
• Teach bystander intervention. If you see something say something. Youth need real world examples of how to intervene. Talk with them about distractions or traveling in pairs so they are not alone. Remind them consistently who they can go to for help.
My goal for this article is that you feel empowered and have tools available to you for how to talk to your children. Research shows that talking about sexual abuse, private parts and touching can help keep children safe.
This is not a comfortable conversation. The more you talk about it, the more clearly your child will remember, and the more comfortable you will become.