Let me start by giving you a few statistics. (Stats taken from netgrace.org , safelyeverafter.com , and https://www.nsopw.gov)
1.) 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men have been sexually abused as children.
2.) 1 out of 4 children are physically abused.
3.) 90% of child sexual abuse occurs by someone the child knows.
4.) It takes less than 1 minute for a predator to lure a child away.
5.) Approximately 1.8 million adolescents in the U.S. have the the victims of sexual assault.
6.) Not all perpetrators are adults - an estimated 23% of reported cases of child sexual abuse are perpetrated by individuals under the age of 18.
So what can I teach my child about their bodies and about other people that will help them stay safe? Here are some tips:
* Patti Fitzgerald, founder of safelyeverafter.com, suggests that you don't teach your child "stranger danger" because they may need help from a stranger one day! We've all heard it. As kids, we were all taught to "stay away from strangers." While this seems helpful, there are several problems with this approach. First of all, small children don't really understand the concept of "strangers." All a bad person has to do is go up to your child and say, "Hi. My Name is..." and all of a sudden they aren't a stranger anymore! Also, if your child is ever lost in a store or other foreign place, everyone will be a stranger! And they'll need to speak with a stranger in order to get help! Instead of teaching kids "stranger danger," teach them to spot "tricky adults."
How do you spot a "tricky adult?" -
1.) Safe adults don't ask kids for help. They ask other adults. - If I lose my puppy, I'm not asking a child to help me find it. If I can't find the house I'm looking for, I won't stop and ask a child to jump in my car and help me find it. I'll ask an adult. Teach your child that safe adults don't ask kids for help.
2.) Teach your child that its not what someone looks like, but what they say or want to do that makes them "tricky." "Tricky people" don't always "look tricky." A tricky person can also be someone you know. (Another reason to stay away from the "stranger danger" technique. 90% of child sexual abuse is perpetrated by someone the child knows! Make sure your child knows the "tricks" to look out for so that if someone they know tries them they will know how to respond!)
3.) Anyone who tries to get you to break a safety rule is a "tricky adult." - Once you've established some clear cut safety rules - like never getting into a car with someone and never going to someone's house without permission - make sure your child understands that anyone who tries to get them to break those rules in not ok! A safe adult won't mind if you ask your mom or dad for permission!
4.) Establish a family rule: NO SECRETS ALLOWED!!! Its always OK TO TELL!!! One of the greatest tools that child abusers use is the "this is a secret" tool. Make sure you establish with your children that secrets are not allowed. - And that they will NEVER get in trouble for telling you a secret!
I know what you're thinking! What about mom's birthday present? Isn't that a secret? How do we handle that? Well, Justin & Lindsey Holcomb, the folks that wrote God Made All Of Me: A Book To Help Children Protect Their Bodies, have come up with a great solution! Teach your child the difference between a SECRET and a SURPRISE. "Surprises are joyful and generate excitement, because in just a little while something will be unveiled that will bring great delight. Secrets, in contrast, cause isolation and exclusion."
5.) Teach your child who to go to if they get lost. We've all taught our kids to "find a policeman" if they get lost in a store. But let's face it, a policeman isn't always there to be found! Who else can a kid go to for help? Teach your child that, if they get lost on a public place, they can do one of two things: A.) FREEZE & YELL or B.) Find a mom with kids and ask her for help! Think about it! The odds are that the mom with kids will be the least dangerous, most protective, and most helpful when it comes to helping a lost child!
6.) Teach them to beware of strangers. - I know. I know. I just told you not to use "stranger danger." But what I mean is, don't make that the basis for your safety lesson. There are still some things your child should know not to do with strangers.
A.) Never accept a something from a stranger (a toy, candy, etc.)
B.) Never go anywhere with a stranger.
This is different from teaching a child never to talk to strangers or to be afraid of all strangers.
Here are some more great tips to help you help your kids stay safe:
1.) Let kids decide how they want to express affection. Never make your child hug or kiss someone - even a grandparent - if they don't feel like it. I know I've been guilty of this a few times myself. "OK. Its bedtime. Give grandma and grandpa a kiss goodnight." Then, when the kid is pouting because they don't want to go to bed, they refuse to give a kiss. And we make them. Stop that practice immediately! Make sure your child knows that they aren't required to show affection in a particular way. Don't make your child think that, in order to show someone respect, they have to hug or kiss them. This can cause them confusion when a "tricky adult" requires the same from them.
2.) On a similar note, don't ask your child to "maintain your emotions." Don't use phrases like, "Mommy's sad. Can I have a hug?" It seems so harmless, but don't make your child feel like they are responsible for your emotional well being. This is another tactic used by child abusers. And if they have gotten used to this at home, it makes them more susceptible to it from someone who is unsafe.
3.) Spend time with your kids! This seems rather obvious, but sometimes it needs to be said! Kids who are starved for attention or affection are vulnerable to abuse by predators.
4.) Never put your child's name on their clothing, bookbags, etc! This is hard where I live. I'm in the Deep South - where embroidery is king! Everywhere you look, there are kids with adorable shirts with their names on them, bookbags embroidered with names, purses, luggage, necklaces, etc. But fight the urge to join the trend! A young child with their name on their clothing just became target number one to that predator in the store or at the park! All they have to do is wait until you are out of sight for one second - or until your child gets away from you for one second - and they can walk up to them, use their name, and pretend they know them. Mickey Mouse t-shirts with your child's name in Disney script are adorable, but they aren't worth the risk to your child's safety!
5.) Teach your child the proper names for their body parts. Yes, I mean words like "vagina" and "penis." As a dainty, Southern mom, just typing those words makes me blush! But if you're like me, fight that embarrassment! Teach your child those words! Why? Several important reasons:
A.) This gives your child the correct language for understanding their bodies and helps them when they need to ask questions.
B.) It also helps them if they ever, God-forbid, need to vocalize any type of abuse.
C.) And lastly, it helps you spot an abuse warning sign! If you've taught your little girl to use the term" vagina" and then she starts referring to it as her "cupcake" or her "flower," then you know someone else is talking to her about her private parts. This may be as innocent as a grandparent reminding them to clean themselves in the tub, but either way you can ask them who taught them to use that word. Pedophiles aren't likely to use the technical words when they are speaking to a child. They'll use a word that seems cute and makes what they want to do seem harmless. This is a great way to find out if someone who shouldn't be is speaking to your child about their body!
6.) Establish a "code word" with your child. If, for some reason, you ever have to send a friend to pick them up from an activity, let your child know that that person has to give them the "code word." Any person who tries to get them without the "code word" is unsafe. My mother-in-law used this tactic with my husband and his brother when they were little. You hope you never have to actually use it, but one day a man tried to take one of them from school by saying that their parents had sent him to pick them up. The man didn't know the code word and they refused to go with him! I shutter to think what would've happened if my mother-in-law hadn't been so wise!
7.) Pattie Fitzgerald (founder of Safely Ever After, Inc.) suggests using cartoons and kids' movies to discuss the concept of "tricky people" with your kids. For example, ask them who the "tricky person" is in Frozen. They'll tell your right away that its Prince Hans. Use the opportunity to teach them that tricky people don't always look or sound tricky. Tricky people make you think they want to be your friend.
8.) Don't use scare tactics to teach your child safety. Scare tactics don't help. They can cause your child freeze or have trouble problem solving (deciding what they need to do).
Teaching Your Kids The "Rules For Secrets":
1.) Teach your kids this IMPORTANT family rule: There are NO SECRETS in our family! (If anyone tries to get you to keep a secret from mom & dad, TELL US!)
2.) Building on #1, make sure your child knows they will NEVER GET IN TROUBLE for telling you a secret.
3.) Teach your child that touches are NEVER SECRET. A secret touch is an inappropriate touch.
4.) Make sure they know its NEVER TOO LATE to tell a secret. Anywhere, anytime, mom and dad are ALWAYS ready and willing to listen.
5.) There's a difference between a surprise and a secret. Surprises are kept for only a short time, are fun, and make people feel happy. Secrets are not nice, and can make people feel sad, confused, angry, or nervous.
Teaching Kids The "Rules for Their Bodies":
1.) I am the boss of my body! I can say "STOP", "ALL DONE", or "NO MORE" if I don't want to be touched. This includes hugging, kissing, snuggling, and even tickling. (As a parent, make sure YOU abide by these rules. Keep in mind that your kids take their queues on appropriate behavior from you, so if you ignore them when they say "stop" they will think that other adults have the right to ignore those words too.
2.) Private Parts should not be touched by other people. These include the parts of your body covered by your underwear or bathing suit (penis, vagina, bottom, and breasts) AND also your mouth. Its important that your child knows that their mouth is a "private part." People are not allowed to kiss them without their permission.
3.) ANY touch (even if it doesn't involve private parts) that makes you feel weird, uncomfortable, scared, angry, or sad is NOT OK. (For example, touching your leg or rubbing your back.) You can say "STOP" and tell mom and dad.
4.) Some touches are safe (like when someone helps you in the bathroom or when the doctor gives you a checkup). If you are ever confused about whether a touch is safe, or if a touch EVER makes you feel uncomfortable, TELL MOM OR DAD.
5.) There are NO GAMES involving private parts. NEVER play a game that includes your private parts. If you want to play doctor, use a doll or stuffed animal. We NEVER take our clothes off to play.
For more great tips and ideas like these, please check out these amazing resources:
1.) Safely Ever After, Inc.
2.) God Made All Of Me (You can also buy the God Made All Of Me book at amazon.com or newgrowthpress.com)
3.) G.R.A.C.E. - Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment