By Joyce Prusak
Executive Director of Coffee County Children’s Advocacy Center
Statistics show that 1 in 10 children will be sexually abused by age 18; and 95 percent of victims are abused by someone they know and trust. To prevent child abuse, parents must be able to maintain honest relationships with their children. Communicating with children about any topic – especially topics related to sexual education – is extremely important when it comes to preventing child abuse. If you talk with your children and assure them that they can trust you about any topic, your children will be more comfortable talking to you about any situation that may occur where someone tries to approach them or touch them in an inappropriate manner. If you educate children about sex – in an age-appropriate way – your children will feel comfortable sharing their concerns with you.
From birth to age 2
You can start conversations using the proper names for genitals even before children become verbal. Incorporate using the proper names – penis, vulva, vagina, nipples – into everyday activities, such as bath time and getting dressed. We teach children the proper words for nose and ears, so, why should their private parts be called differently than their actual names? If you use proper names, it will be easier for children to describe an incident if someone approaches them in an inappropriate manner.
When children are 2 to 5 years old
Have conversations about healthy boundaries. Teach your children what is appropriate and what is not when it comes to touching – or being touched by other people. Teach them it’s ok to say no if they don’t want Uncle Joe to tickle them. It’s their body, so it’s their choice. Tell your children that others should never ask to see or touch their genitals, except in cases such as going to the doctor or needing help cleaning themselves. We call that the clean and healthy rule. At that age, your child might ask you how babies are made. It’s important not to lie. You can say something like: “There are lots of ways…Two grown-ups get their bodies together and share the sperm and the egg to make a child like you, or sometimes they get the sperm or egg from someone else,” according to www.todaysparent.com.
When children are 6 to 8 years old
Begin conversations about online safety. Talk about the danger related to talking online with strangers and sharing personal information and pictures. Implement times and zones free of technology in your household. By age eight, most children have begun exploring their bodies. This is a good time to approach the topic of masturbation, framing it as something that, while normal, is done in private, according to www.todaysparent.com. You can relate the topic of sex with talks about puberty, explaining that your child’s body will begin to change.
When children are 9 to 12 years old
You can ask your children if they have any questions and explain things they may want to know. Again, assure your children that the changes in their bodies are normal. This age group spends more time online without supervision, so it’s important to focus on safety in digital spaces.
When they’re teenagers
Conversations about sex with your teenage children will be easier if you’ve already established good relationships and you’ve had earlier talks. At that age, you need to help your children evaluate risks and make responsible decisions. Talk with them about protecting themselves against violence. Have frequent conversations about healthy relationships. If your children are reluctant to talk about themselves, use examples of your past or other people you know.
Here are some additional tips to help make these conversations easy and natural. Don’t make a big deal out of “the talk.” Talk with your children when a chance is presented. Maybe when you’re watching a movie or read a book that can spark a conversation. “Big talks” can be intimidating and scary for children. So talk about the topic when you get a chance. Correct misinformation and provide explanation. To find out how much your children know, ask open ended questions, maybe when you watch a movie together.
To learn more about child abuse prevention, visit coffeecountycac.org and follow Coffee County Children’s Advocacy Center on social media. Thanks to a grant awarded to the center, Coffee County CAC offers free child abuse prevention trainings. To schedule a training email firstname.lastname@example.org.