In today’s world, being a good parent is no easy job. It involves a wide array of worries and responsibilities. There are so many things that children need to be taught.
Many parents are concerned about child abuse. Perhaps you are as well. Around the world shocking reports about the prevalence of this disgusting practice has good parents horrified to learn what is happening to children in their area.
Not surprising, one researcher in the field of sexual abuse called rates of child abuse “one of the most discouraging discoveries of our era.”
Sexual abuse is a daunting issue. Indeed, some parents feel overwhelmed when they contemplate the sheer wickedness of the people who seek out children to abuse them sexually. However, there are some practical steps that parents can take to keep their children safe.
Few of us want to dwell on the frightening and unpleasant subject of sexual abuse of children. Is the matter worth considering? Well, what would you be willing to give for the sake of your child’s safety? Learning about the unpleasant realities of abuse is surely a small price to pay. Furthermore, such knowledge can really make a difference!
Do not let the plague of abuse rob you of your courage. Remember, you have power that your child does not have – strengths like knowledge, experience, and wisdom. The key is to enhance those strengthens and put them to use in protecting your child. Here are three basic steps that every parent can take. They are as follows: (1) Become your child’s first line of defense against abuse, (2) give your child some needed background education, and (3) equip your child with some basic protective tools.
The primary responsibility for protecting children against abuse belongs to parents, not to children. So educating parents comes before educating children. If you are a parent, there are a few things you need to know about child abuse. In about 90 percent of the cases of sexual abuse of a child, the perpetrator is someone the child already knows and trusts. Naturally, you do not want to believe that an affable neighbor, teacher, health-care worker, coach, or relative could lust after your child. In truth, most people are not like that. There is no need to become suspicious of everybody around you. Still, if you want to protect your child, it is vital to learn how the typical abuser operates.
For instances, if someone who appears more interested in children than in adults singles out your child for special attention and gifts or offers free babysitting or private excursions with your child, what will you do? Decide that the person must be a molester? No. Do not be quick to jump to conclusions. Nonetheless, it can put you on the alert. Remember, any offer that sounds too good to be true may be just that. Carefully screen anyone who volunteers to spend time alone with your child. Let such an individual know that you are likely to check on your child at anytime. For example, say your child has a music lesson at home. Tell the instructor that you will be in and out of the room while they are there. Such vigilance may sound extreme, but as a parent, it is better to be safe than sorry. Be actively involved in your child’s activities, friendships and school work. Learn all the details about any planned excursion.
One mental-health professional who spent 33 years working with cases of sexual abuse notes that he has seen countless cases that could have been prevented by simple vigilance on the parents part. He quotes one convicted molester as saying: ” Parents literally give us their children…They sure made it easy for me.” Remember most molesters prefer easy targets. Parents who are actively involved in their children’s lives make their children difficult targets.
Two more ways to act as your child’s first line of defense is to;
Be a good listener
For example, if your child says something that concerns you, calmly use questions to draw them out. If your child does not want a certain babysitter to come back, ask why? Or if your child complains that someone tickled them, ask “Where did they tickle you?” Do not be quick to dismiss a child’s answers. Abusers tell a child that no one will believe him or her; all too often that is true. And if a child has been abused, being believed and supported by a parent is a big step toward recovery.
Be aware and familiar of your child’s behavior
For example, if a child suddenly regresses to behavior he or she had outgrown some time earlier, such as bed-wetting, clinginess, or fear of being alone, he or she may be sending a signal that something serious is upsetting to them. Calmly draw out your child to learn the cause of the distress so you can offer comfort, reassurance, and protection.
Your second basic step in protecting your children, is by giving your children background education on the subject of sex. One reference work on the subject of child abuse quotes a convicted molester as saying: “Give me a kid who knows nothing about sex, and you’ve given me my next victim.” Yes, children who are ignorant about sex are much easier for molesters to fool. However, as a parent you may find the subject of sex a bit awkward to discuss with your child. So how do you go about it? Some parents start early, with naming the body parts. They use real words, not baby words, to show them that there is nothing funny or shameful about any part of their body. Many parents simply tell their children that the parts of their body that a bathing suit covers are private, personal, special and not a toy for anyone to play with. Instruction about abuse follows naturally.
Experts in child care and abuse prevention recommend that both parents take part in these little talks from time to time, and assure the child that he or she can always come to them and tell them if anyone touches them in a way that wrong or makes them feel uncomfortable.
In today’s world children need to know that there are some people who want to touch children or get children to touch them in ways that are wrong. Finally, let your child know that no one should ask them to keep a secret from you. No matter what they are told – even if scary threats are made – it is always okay to come to Mommy or Daddy. Like a planned escape route in case of fire, these are just-in-case messages and will probably never be needed.
The third step in protecting your child is to equip your child with some basic protective tools.Give your child some simple actions to take in case someone tries to take advantage of them when you are not there.
One method that is often recommended is like a game. Parents ask “What if…?” and the child answers. You might say, “What if we were at the store together and we got separated? How would you find me? The child’s answer may not be exactly what you would hope for, but you can guide them along with further questions, such as “Can you think of anything you could do that would be safer?”
You can use similar questions to ask a child what the safest response would be if someone tried to touch them in the wrong way. If the child is easily alarmed by such questions, you might trying telling a story about another child. For example, “A little girl is with a relative she likes, but then he tries to touch her where he shouldn’t. What do you think she should do to stay safe?”
What should you teach your child to do in situations like the one above? Notes one author: “A firm ‘No! Or ‘Don’t do that! Or ‘Leave me alone! does wonders to frighten the seductive offender into retreat and into rethinking his or her choice of victim.” Help your child act out brief scenarios so they feel confident to refuse loudly, get away quickly and report to you whatever has happened. A child who seems to understand the training thoroughly may easily forget within a few weeks or months. So repeat this training regularly.
All the child’s direct care givers, including the males-whether father, stepfather, or other male relatives-should be part of these discussions. Why? Because all involved in such teaching are, in effect, promising the child that they will never commit such acts of abuse. Sadly, much sexual abuse occurs right within the confines of the family. Next month we will discuss how you can make your family a safe haven in an abusive world.
Genevieve Chappell is a wife, mother, Bible teacher and worldwide volunteer. Chappell has been a successful television personality, host, producer, model, correspondent, speaker and columnist. Genevieve Chappell