Archive for April 20th, 2012

April 20, 2012

10 Essential Tips to Protect Children from Real Monsters

There are many ugly problems in the world. For many of those troubles, we’re powerless to do much, if anything, to change the situation. Sadly, monsters are very real. 

I want to bring a heinous problem to your attention. But, fear not. I will also show you some very simple things that you can actually do about it. Oh, and it won’t cost you a cent.

Child sexual abuse is a nightmare affecting one in four girls and one in six boys in the United States, though it is a worldwide problem. It is a problem that knows no geographic, ethnic, racial, religious, or economic boundaries.

Fortunately, you can actually save a child, perhaps your own, from ever having to experience this terrible crime. Here’s what you can do:

First, read “The 10 Tips for Protecting the Children You Love from Sexual Abuse.”

Second, make this my most read blog post ever by sharing the URL with friends, family members, and colleagues. Post the URL on Facebook, Tweet it, email it, post it on your blog. The more people that read “The 10 Tips,” the more children that you and I will be able to spare.

Two simple things is all I ask of you: 1) continue reading, and 2) spread the word.

The following was written by the terrific staff at the Philadelphia Children’s Alliance, an organization on whose board I serve. The article first appeared in Parents Express Magazine (June 2009). With permission, I’m reprinting it here:

 

As parents, we’d like to think that there are no dangers facing children in our society today. But as staff members of the Philadelphia Children’s Alliance, we can’t ignore the fact that a staggering proportion of American children are affected by sexual abuse. Research from the Centers for Disease Control shows that by their eighteenth birthdays, one in four girls and one in six boys will have been sexually abused. Furthermore, children who have been sexually abused often suffer long-term consequences, including increased risk for substance abuse, eating disorders, behavioral problems, prostitution, depression, and physical health issues. The phenomenon is quietly enormous, and although it may be difficult to safeguard children everywhere, it is important to know that parents do have power to protect their children.

In celebration of Child Abuse Awareness Month in April, here are some suggested ways to decrease the risk of sexual abuse occurring to your loved ones:

1. Make your home a “No Secrets Zone”

Kids are naturally intrigued by secrets and oftentimes parents inadvertently ask them to keep secrets for seemingly harmless reasons. As one Forensic Interviewer explains, “When I allow my niece to eat a huge candy bar right before dinner, I am always tempted to tell her to make it ‘our’ secret.” The problem with this—aside from massive sugar shock and possible wrath from her sister-in-law—is that secrets are also the fuel that keeps sexual abuse going. Perpetrators use secrets to keep kids silent and to continue the abuse. Make sure that your child knows that secrets are never okay and that no one should ask them to keep a secret. It can be difficult to explain, but teach your child the difference between a secret and a surprise. Secrets are something you are never supposed to tell and can make you feel bad; surprises, like birthday gifts, are good and can be revealed at a certain time.

2. Respect your child’s personal boundaries

When you arrive at Grandma and Grandpa’s house for a holiday and they run to give your children kisses, inevitably, kids at a certain age will protest. Their “yucks!” are then followed by our insistent prompts to “Go ahead and give Grandpa a kiss.” You might be trying to avoid hurt feelings and to teach respect, but children must be able to show love and affection in ways that feel comfortable to them. Do not force kids to give hugs or kisses if they don’t want to. When you force unwanted physical contact, you send kids the message that adults do not have to respect their physical boundaries and you leave them vulnerable to abusive situations. Listen when a child says “no.” There are other ways to show affection and respect—a high five, a handshake, anything—that your child may find more appealing. 

3. Teach kids the proper names for body parts

When you’re in the middle of the supermarket and your daughter starts screaming, “Mommy, my vagina hurts,” it might seem like a good idea to come up with a cute and discrete code word for that body part. The list of creative nicknames we’ve heard over the years goes on and on: “peach,” “pocketbook,” “princess,” etc. Yes, these names might spare you from public embarrassment, but what if your child is being sexually abused and tells her teacher that her uncle touched her “cookie”? It suddenly becomes very hard for that teacher to discern just how serious the problem is. By teaching children the correct names for their body parts—especially their genitalia—you enable them to communicate more effectively with others about their bodies and any contact that they do not like. We know it can feel uncomfortable to constantly use the words penis and vagina, but it would feel infinitely worse to know that your child was trying to speak out to stop abuse and no one understood her. 

4. Monitor “one-on-one” situations

One-on-one situations with an adult leave kids at risk for abuse. For working parents reliant on childcare or parents that are desperate for a revitalizing date night, this can be especially tricky to negotiate. It’s not realistic to say that your children should never be alone with a babysitter or another adult, but when they are, whenever possible, make sure that they can be readily observed by others. Keep blinds open in the house, doors to rooms open, and try to check in at irregular intervals to give potential perpetrators the message that you and others are watching.

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