In the wake of the Penn State, Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal, I’ve received several calls, tweets and emails regarding effective measures parents can protect their children from child sexual abuse. In addition to making sure that the youth-serving organizations your children are involved with implement child-sexual abuse training programs, engaging in regular conversations with your children and teenagers can decrease their vulnerability to sexual abuse and also increase the likelihood that your son or daughter will tell you if abuse has occurred.
A few key points:
- Educate your children about their bodies. Teach them the real names of their private parts and teach them what parts of their bodies other people (kids and adults) should not touch.
- Talk to them about sex in an age-appropriate fashion, and help them to understand the difference between healthy, normal sexual acts and unhealthy sexual acts. Let them know that a family member, friend, coach, mentor, classmate or other adult should never engage in any type of inappropriate touching, physical or sexual act.
- Be proactive and straight-forward as you talk about sex and child sexual abuse with your children. Look for everyday opportunities to talk about sex and to distinguish between healthy sex and unhealthy, dangerous, inappropriate or abusive sexual acts.
- Ask questions and be observant. I’ve talked with many adults who were sexually abused as children. They have all told me that they desperately wanted to talk to their parents, but their parents talked to them about sex, sexual abuse or asked them specific questions about their interactions with their abuser. They were afraid, ashamed, embarrassed and fearful about telling their parents, and so the abuse continued. They were worried that they would be blamed for the abuse. Communicate repeatedly to your kids that it is never OK for an adult to interact with them in a sexually inappropriate way and that your son or daughter should come to you if an adult ever makes them feel uncomfortable. Watch out for changes in mood or behavior. Ask specific questions, like “Has [so and so] ever made you feel uncomfortable or ever talked to you in a way or interacted with you in a way that was strange?”
- Limit opportunities for abuse by trying your best to make sure that your child is not alone, in a private area, with an adult, and if your child is spending time with a mentor or someone you trust, drop in on their activities together and remain engaged.
- Monitor and be engaged with their online lives. Set clear guidelines regarding what is and what isn’t appropriate online behavior. Tell your child to come to you if anyone ever asks them for or tries to send them a sexual picture. They should never meet face-to-face with someone they online know through the Internet. Use monitoring software to check up on their online activities, a strong filter to block them from accessing pornographic website and other content that could expose them to harmful sexual behaviors and time limiting software to make sure they aren’t communicating late at night, when kids often run into problems. (For a great parental control suite, check out SafeEyes and for monitoring+filtering, check out our X3watchPRO).
Click here for more on talking about sex with your kids.