Jayneen Sanders talks about how to teach your kids to protect themselves against sexual abuse.
As I find myself, and the children’s book I have written, more and more in the media, I find I am well and truly out of my comfort zone. I am by no means media savvy. Prior to the book’s publication, I have never spoken on the radio (well, once on talkback and I became so nervous I hung up) or been on TV. I am just your ordinary, everyday mother of three and primary school teacher. So when asked to talk on radio or television my nerves really start to kick in, and I am well and truly out of my comfort zone. But I tell myself to be brave, you can do this, you have something important to say.
My book, Some Secrets Should Never Be Kept is a book about empowering children and teaching them that their body is their body, and no-one has the right to touch it. Okay, let’s be honest: what it’s really about is sexual abuse prevention, and that takes everyone out of their comfort zone. Parents in particular. Nobody wants to imagine that their child could ever be a victim of sexual abuse. But I am asking you to come out of your comfort zone and take your head out of the sand. With 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 7 boys being sexually abused before they reach 18, we can no longer ignore the elephant in the room. Most parents, when confronted with these statistics, twitch a little, look very uncomfortable and avoid eye contact, but what they are secretly saying to themselves is “That could never possibly happen to my child.” Wrong. 93% of kids know their perpetrator. It is most often someone they know well and trust in their immediate or extended family and community. Remember perpetrators groom both the parents and their children, and they are VERY skilled at it.
So let’s be honest with ourselves and look this issue square in the eye. We are not always there to watch over our kids: the first sleepover, the first school camp, the first camping trip with the neighbors, were you there? Everyone I know is comfortable with teaching water safety and road safety to their children. Not a problem. You teach your child to swim, just in case they find themselves in deep water when you’re not there. You teach them to cross the road, just in case they have to cross a busy street without you. But…do you teach your child body safety just in case someone touches them inappropriately when you’re not there? Or, do they just have to work out its wrong on their own? Rest assured the perpetrator will be telling them it’s our special secret and they must never tell anyone or … Does your child know to say, “Stop!” in a confident voice, “My body is my body and you can’t touch it!”? Does your child know to tell someone they trust about the violation straightaway, and to keep on telling until they are believed?
If the answers to these questions are “no”, then it’s time to take yourself out of your comfort zone and act!
Teaching body safety is simply that; teaching a child that their body is their body and no-one has the right to touch it. And let me reassure you that sex does not come up in the conversation nor the act of sexual abuse. When you teach road safety to your child, do you show them graphic images of road trauma? Of course, you don’t. Similarly, when you teach body safety, sex and the act of sexual abuse is never mentioned.
In my opinion, teaching body safety is a joint undertaking, and BOTH parents need to be on the same page with this issue. I suggest before you begin the conversation with your child, you jointly talk about your approach, when you would like to begin and make it a conversation you both have with your child. Knowing the approach you are jointly about to embark upon is a must, so when you are with your child separately, and incidents or opportunities to talk about this subject arrive, you are equally on the same page. Keep in mind, it is a topic you will teach and nurture over time. Sorry, but a one-off session will just not cut it. Nor is it solely the mother’s responsibility because “women are good at these kinds of things”. Men, you too need to come out of your comfort zone and be part of this very important discussion with both genders of your children. You too are a parent, so parent.
In summary, I am asking both fathers and mothers not to crawl or slip gingerly out of your comfort zone but to leap out with purpose and conviction and teach body safety skills to your child. You will soon find that your comfort zone expands rapidly and you will wonder what all the angst was about. Begin early. Your child will be thankful you did. Even if they are never ever abused, and we certainly hope to God they never ever are, at least you have empowered them with the skills to stop the abuse before it begins. Once it begins, a lifetime of pain and suffering has also begun.
Note to Dads: In my experience, having my husband a part of every ‘tricky’ conversation with our three daughters (this includes the old “Where did I come from?” and “You’ve only had sex three times, right, just to have us?”) has only enhanced his relationship with them. There is nothing they would tell me that they wouldn’t tell him. It’s a wonderful thing. And he loves being such an integral part of their lives. And rightly so!
Photo—Mother talks to her son from Shutterstock