Parents (and all people) today are rightly concerned about the safety and well-being of our children, especially when it comes to sexual abuse. While we can and should put institutional safeguards in place to reduce the risks of abuse, we parents can also teach our children to speak up when they feel unsafe or uncomfortable. For that to happen, we need to invest our time.
Factors that lead to abuse
As a licensed therapist who works with adolescents and children who have sexually abused others, I have learned a lot about responding to sex abuse issues. The children and adolescents with whom I work often have similar backgrounds. Histories of abuse, neglect and early, consistent access to pornography are chief among them, but there is one other factor that characterizes both the children who have abused and the children who have been abused: lack of knowledge.
In the current social and media climate, children observe sexual (or nearly-sexual) images and references more and more commonly, and their child-like curiosity encourages them to experience it. They see something and they want to try it. It seems exciting, and, before their brain develops the knowledge to learn why this is wrong, they take action and act on their desires. This simple and fundamental detail helps us to see that these kids aren’t broken. Rather, their actions are a product of a broken respect for the body.
Teaching them safety, like teaching them to ride a bike
Take a moment to imagine a parent showing their child how to ride a bicycle. Helmet on? Check. Appropriate bike? Got it. Training wheels? Lucky to have ‘em! Watch in your mind with amusement as the parent guides their child, encouraging them to hang on and peddle. It’s a beautiful sight. By the end of it, the parent hopes to have shown the child how to navigate the risks of riding well enough to receive its rewards as well. There’s also hope that, having taught the child all of these very important basics, the child would be willing and able to speak up if they ever felt unsafe.
Just as we teach our children how to ride a bike, we parents must work with our kids to help them to recognize and pursue healthy living. Helping a child to understand their body and its purpose not only helps them to be safe and confident, but it also helps them to learn more about the beautiful magnificence of God. God desires for us to know the purposes of His creation, especially our bodies, and the dignity that belongs to every person, each of us having been made in His image and likeness.
Teaching a child about good touch, bad touch and right relationship is as essential to their health and safety these days as it is to look both ways before riding across a street. Furthermore, teaching our children about their bodies won’t just help them to be safe, it will help them to keep others safe as well. I know from my work that the majority of children who abuse someone else have no desire to hurt another person, but no one has taught them the right or wrong way to manage their sexual thoughts and desires. Equipping our children to understand healthy relationships and also to speak up when something is amiss will help other children to be safer too.