Summer... for many of us the word conjures daydreams of endless days with nothing to do. Beaches, parks, playing with friends, and exciting travel all come to mind. The freedom of seemingly endless days without school, homework, and deadlines are treasured. But summertime can also mean exposure to new people in unfamiliar environments when kids venture off to various camps and activities. It is important for parents to go beyond the basics of the “stranger danger” talk with their kids. Because 90% of child abuse victims know their abuser. Here are some suggestions that we find helpful:
Teach kids the correct names of body parts. This will help them communicate more clearly with trusted adults about touching problems.
Children should be taught not to let older people kiss them, hold them, touch them, or make them touch others in ways that make the youngster feel uncomfortable. Cautioning children, "Don't let anyone touch you," is simply not adequate. They need concrete suggestions, and role-playing ("what would you do if...?") can be helpful. And as children get older, they need increasingly detailed information.
Teach children to report any touch, action, or talk that feels uncomfortable - no matter who the source is, or how close the relationship. This applies to all kinds of touch, including hitting and bullying. It is important to teach youngsters to be wary of strangers, BUT: the vast majority of victims are molested by adults or older kids whom they know, trust, and - in many cases - love.
Kids should be taught never to keep bad secrets. These are often secrets that will get grown-ups or older kids in trouble if they are discovered or told. Bad secrets might involve stealing, lying, breaking rules - or inappropriate sexual touching. Good secrets are usually surprises, like presents or parties, which will make other people happy when they become known.
Make sure children know which adults can be trusted and to whom they should go if they have questions or concerns (for example, parents, teachers, school counselors, police). And make sure kids know that telling bad secrets is NOT the same as tattling.
Let your children know that they are loved unconditionally. No matter what they do or what is done to them, they need to know that you will love them just the same. You know that, but they need to HEAR it - and OFTEN. Many kids don't tell about sexual abuse because they're afraid that family members will think them bad or unlovable because they "let" the abuse happen.
If your child discloses abuse, believe him or her and immediately report the abuse to the police or your local Department of Social Services. Then get help for your child.
Contact Hopeful Horizons' 24-hour crisis line @ 1-800-868-2632
Click here for additional information on "The 5 Steps to Protecting Our Children™