Sex Abuse Prevention Advice for Parents Planning a Family Getaway

Sex Abuse Prevention Advice for Parents Planning a Family Getaway

The long-awaited vacation is almost here; you’ve spent months researching, planning and saving, and you can’t wait to have some well-deserved down time. Vacation 2021 plans will have a focus your physical health and safety;  if you’re traveling with kids,  spend a few more minutes planning for overall safety including  keeping your family safe from predators.   Consider this advice  from an expert in sexual abuse prevention as you plan your summer getaway!

Safety starts at check-in: Good desk clerks never announce a room number; they will hand you a key or card and point to the room number. You have no idea who in the lobby may be observing a member of your family or your possessions with a special interest. No one should know exactly where you are unless you decide to tell them.

Daytime fun: Many family-themed resorts offer a kids program, but parental vigilance is required as these programs are rarely subject to the same standards as child care centers. Ask the same kinds of questions you’d ask about a camp — Who are the staff? How are they screened? What kind of training do they receive from the hotel?

You can feel more secure if your hotel contracts with licensed child care providers for programs and parents should always know where their children are. Younger ones must be kept within eyesight; adolescents and older kids should be given a time limit to report back to parents. The limit can range from 15 to 30 minutes for younger adolescents; older kids may earn the right to be gone 60 to 90 minutes. These same time limits apply if parents chose to leave an adolescent in charge of younger siblings while the parents enjoy resort life. This can be a risky proposition — parents deserve privacy and vacation time as well, but it’s not easy to combine romance and family time. Safety first, couples’ time second.

Beach safety: Adolescent girls in bathing suits often can appear to be older than they are. When sunbathing without a chaperone, they may attract attention from adults  or older teens. A young girl may be flattered by this attention and equally unprepared to respond. This topic makes a great pre-vacation conversation and is a wonderful opportunity to share family values and beliefs about topics ranging from respect to puberty.

Sleep arrangements: This is a good time to remember some basic physiology. Sexual arousal is autonomic and occurs in response to conscious or unconscious stimuli. People do not choose when to get aroused any more than they choose when to blink. Most sexually mature (and maturing) human beings experience all or part of the sexual response cycle while sleeping. This simple fact of life should be considered when making sleeping arrangements for vacation. It is best for people who do not mean to share accidental arousal not to share beds. Put the adolescents on the floor with sleeping bags if there are not enough beds to go around.

Don’t forget the basics: Be cautious, use common sense, supervise little ones at all times and always know the whereabouts of adolescents and teens.

Dr. Janet Rosenzweig is the author of “The Sex-Wise Parent: The Parent’s Guide Protecting Your Child, Strengthening Your Family, and Talking to Kids about Sex, Abuse, and Bullying” and a 30-year veteran of child-welfare and youth-serving programs (www.SexWiseParent.com).

AN early version of this article appeared originally at  http://www.centredaily.com/2013/07/10/3682979/communities-that-care-discuss.html

A hidden gift  for families in quarantine time

A hidden gift  for families in quarantine time

Anyone raising kids during this pandemic is being stretched in every possible way. Parents now must add teacher, camp counselor and BFF and to their daily duties.

On the plus side, many families spending more and more time together are finding that their relationships have become closer and, in many ways, more meaningful. Working parents now have 60 hours each week of potential face time with their kids, bringing a new dimension to family life. This forced closeness can breed intimacy and current events have probably led families into a lot of conversations they might never have expected.

Now is the perfect time to add sexual health and safety to about the topic list.

Pre-adolescents are still open to their parents’ opinions and wisdom and will love the extra attention of a parent-initiated conversation. Even teens, who may try to brush their parents off like a fly on their ice cream cone, really listen, even when they seem to be trying not to. Research has shown that adolescents place more weight on their parents’ opinions than parents give them credit for.

The two things parents need to share with children of every age are accurate information about their bodies, and their family’s values.

Accurate information can come in many forms — with younger kids, we want to be ready to answer whatever questions they have resources like this booklet  from the American Academy of Pediatrics can be a big help!

With older kids, parents can suggest websites like www.sexetc.org for accurate information,  or leave a copy of a book like YOU: The Owner’s Manual for Teens: A Guide to a Healthy Body and Happy Life under their pillow.

Most important is helping a child understand that sexual arousal is an autonomic response. Understanding this fact can be key both in ensuring the child not confuse their own arousal for consent, and ensuring they know that no one else is responsible for causing or satisfying their arousal. You can read more about this  and related concepts  here.

The family’s values – everyone’s shared opinions about what’s right and wrong – is central to every meaningful discussion parents have with their kids. I’ve gotten great feedback from parents using the family values checklist   with each other, and these same concepts can be discussed with kids.

You don’t have to look hard to find openings to discuss issues about sexual arousal and family values; TV is a great catalyst.  From the crew hookups on Below Deck to Rory’s crushes in vintage Gilmore Girls episodes, parents have a great opportunity to highlight which behaviors fit in their values and which do not. Asking a child what they thought characters were doing, or why they were doing it, can start a great discussion, and cue a parent into what their child actually understands.

A family might want to get more formal and call a family meeting to consider rules for all being home together. Consider these topics:

Values concerning how everyone behaves inside the home; such as

  • What everyone wears at home, but outside the bedroom, focusing on privacy, modesty and self-respect.
  • How the kids want you to show affection. What do they like, and what makes them uncomfortable?
  • Having friends over with doors open or closed. How can everyone be comfortable with the family’s values concerning privacy, secrets and trust?

And for when COVID-19 has passed;

  • Kissing Relatives. How should your children respond to a request for affection if they would rather not, in ways they can be assured of their parents’ support?

In our expanded family time, parents can find a unique opportunity to strengthen their relationships with their children and work to promote their sexual health and safety. Eventually, the kids will all   be back among their peers, and with your help they will be better prepared than ever for many of life’s challenges.

 

 

Janet Rosenzweig, MS, PhD, MPA, is the executive director of The American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children  and the author of The Sex-Wise Parent  and   The Parent’s Guide to Talking About Sex: A Complete Guide to Raising (Sexually) Safe, Smart, and Healthy Children.  For more information, read her blog and follow @JanetRosenzweig on Twitter.

 

What every parent should know about the middle school crush

What every parent should know about the middle school crush

When the kids head back to school, parents hear a lot of new information, some offered up voluntarily (“MOM – I need $50 for supplies!”) some overheard while driving carpool (“I think Lakeesha has a crush on Mr. Smith”). Both kinds of statements are important for a parent to consider and if they choose, act on.

School crushes are as common as acne. They can be a normal, healthy part of development, teaching kids social and interpersonal skills that will serve them into adolescence and young adulthood. Or, they can be the platform for bullying and exploitation. The crush on the teacher is one of the trickiest for both parent and child.

During adolescence, kids start to learn who they are as a sexual person. This is reflected in their style and grooming choices, their choices of music, books and video, and their choice of friends. Young people will learn from and emulate people who have power and status. This could be an extremely popular peer, and it might also be a young teacher.

Teachers generally seek to be both liked and respected by students, which can put them in a tough and delicate position. They are in front of students all day, and adolescents are very prone to scrutinize and judge. Teachers judged to be “hot” are likely to attract unwanted attention. This can be particularly true for young teachers who may only be a few years older than the students. In many cases, they are wholly unprepared for the attention.

Well-prepared teachers have had pre-service training on understanding the sexual dynamics that can occur in the classroom. They will have learned that the pre-frontal cortex of an adolescent, the part of the brain the governs higher reasoning, is not fully developed, and adolescents can make poor choices that seem perfectly reasonable to them at the time. They will have learned that adolescents may develop crushes and behave in ways that may flatter or tempt a teacher. They will have learned that the looks or certain behaviors of students may indeed elicit sexual arousal in the teachers themselves; autonomic physical arousal is medically normal. Most important, they know that not acting on arousal is socially, psychologically, ethically and legally normal. But too few teachers are prepared in this way.

Students are even less likely to understand arousal they might experience if they find a teacher attractive. Their bodies may experience autonomic arousal, which is nothing more than an instinctual response to stimuli, such as getting goose bumps when cold, and kids need to understand this. It is too easy to confuse arousal with an emotional response, particularly for girls, for whom the physical sensations are less obvious than for boys. Predators of either gender often use the fact of this physical response to lure a teen into a sexual relationship.

Attractive teachers may also become the subject of stories, fantasies and gossip among kids, such as two young teachers dating, even if there is no truth to that at all. There is a vast difference between adolescent fantasies based on the way a teacher looks, and real reports of actual behavior. If you overhear your kids gossiping about a teacher, calmly ask them to describe the behaviors. Gently seek detail like where and when and determine if its observation or storytelling.

Troubling teacher behaviors include:

  • Breaking any rule the school has about out of school contact between students and faculty
  • Consistently spending unsupervised, one-on one-time with students
  • Using language that is inappropriate in any way, especially sexually
  • Sharing anything but the most superficial details about their personal life, and/or asking students questions about theirs
  • Singling out an individual student for special treatment like effusive praise or rewards of any type.

If you hear a credible description of troubling behavior, contact the school.

So, what’s a parent to do?

  • Keep in mind that while post-pubescent children may be out of danger from pedophiles (people whose primary sexual attraction is to children) hebephiles are attracted to young teens (generally ages 11 to 14) and ephebophiles are attracted to older teens (generally ages 15 to 19).
  • Make sure children of either gender understand the elements of sexual arousal.
  • Pay close attention to what your child has to say about the young, popular teachers. If kids are telling stories about the way a teacher behaves, ask them questions to confirm the reality.
  • Continue to monitor children’s social media. New Jersey law require that each district have a policy on student/teacher on-line line contact; Pennsylvania does not.  Many schools prohibit teacher/student contact on non-school platforms; if yours does not, watch your child’s pages and the pages of the teachers whose names you overhear.

School crushes are a normal part of growing up. They can provide a learning opportunity or become the basis for exploitation. The tried and true parenting tools of open communication and careful observation of children, and being prepared with facts and information, can help you keep children and their schools sexually safe and healthy and promote a great year of growth and learning.

This post first appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer   https://www.inquirer.com/health/expert-opinions/kids-school-crush-teacher-20190910.html

It’s time to change the way we deal with kids’ on-line sexual behaviors

It’s time to change the way we deal with kids’ on-line sexual behaviors

What Parents Need to Know About Digital Consent

Say you’re out somewhere, at a party or on a date, and someone you’re with leans in for a kiss. They ask ‘May I?”  and  you either consent to it or not. Unless the person forces them self on you, it’s a pretty simple thing. There is nothing permanent about a kiss.

But things  are far from simple online and actually,  there is no sure way to have lasting consent for privacy or discretion when it comes to the exchange of photographs and texts.

This is an issue for parents, because if your child has a cell phone and a bedroom door there’s a pretty good chance that at some point he or she may be tempted to ask for or send a sexually suggestive text or photo. And what happens to that text or photo is entirely out of your child’s control, no matter what the receiver says in order to get it.

Not your child, you say? And not you, for that matter?

Well,  one study  of 870 adults aged 18 – 82 found that 88 percent reported they had shared sexually explicit language or photos. Another study reports that at least 20 percent of high school students said they had sent a naked picture of themselves through text or email, and almost twice that number report having sent sexually suggestive messages.

Every photo carries the possibility of embarrassment, including the trauma of bullying and shaming, and most kids – and a lot of adults – don’t consider the consequences of trust gone wrong and the possibility that those private images could become public – and permanent.

You can’t keep someone from asking your child for a nude selfie or prevent your child from asking for one. But you can help your child understand the risks and make a sensible decision when temptation arises.

What do parents need to know?

  • More than 20% of teens report ever having sent a naked photo of themselves through email or text.
  • Girls are more likely to be asked to send an explicit photo than to do the asking and are much more likely to be bothered by having been asked.
  • Sexting or sending a sexualized image via text message almost always occurs within the context of a dating/intimate relationship.
  • Sexting is more prevalent among sexually active teens. Read one good study here.
  • Teens’ sexual and reproductive systems mature several years before the part of their brain that regulates rational decision making.

 

  • Sexual activity for teens is progressive, from kissing to touching to petting to oral or genital intercourse. By 17, about  75 percent of adolescents have engaged in genital “petting,” or mutual masturbation.
  • Sexting or sharing explicit images and text is becoming a common part of sexual progression; in fact, it is referred to by some as ‘the new third base.’

What can parents communicate to  their children?

  • There is no guarantee that a person won’t distribute suggestive texts or photos, even if he or she promises not to. Someone shouldn’t send a photo that one wouldn’t want his or her family – and potentially everyone else in the world – to see.
  • Sexually safe and healthy people consider the pros and cons of any sexual act before they engage in it, and sharing sexualized  photos  is a sexual act,  and are prepared for it physically, emotionally and socially.
  • Sexually safe and healthy people can discuss each sexual act with their partner before they engage in it to ensure they are both comfortable with taking that step. If a person can’t discuss the sex act, they are not ready to engage it.

Ideally, open conversations and parental support will discourage a teen from asking for or sending explicit materials, but inevitably many will. It is also inevitable that some of these images will be shared further. When this happens, the subject of the photos has two traumas to process – the breach of trust from a former partner and the reactions by the outsiders, including his or her family, who can now see the images.

All too often a female victim is shamed and humiliated by her peers.  Humiliation is defined as the emotion experienced  when your status is lowered in front of others. Psychologically, responses to humiliation were both more negative than to anger, and more intense than to happiness.  Teens are at an especially high risk for a dangerously severe reaction  to humiliation, because of the high value teens place on the perceptions of their peers.  Parents have an important role in changing  social norms  to support — instead of shame —victims.  Parents can model  sympathy or empathy for any  victim of a breach of digital consent and make it  clear to children that shaming victims is not tolerated in your home and you expect them to bring this value to their school and community.

The notion of digital consent is fragile enough to begin with, but it can also vaporize when a real relationship ends, or good feelings turn ugly. Sometimes the relationship itself was an illusion, an excuse to lure a victim into a trap. Predators gradually seduce a victim into online communications, then photos, then nude photos. Images may also be taken without permission; the 12-year-old who finds an explicit photo on his big brother’s phone and shares it with the entire 7th grade class is developmentally incapable of realizing the pain he caused the subject of the photo.

As much as they want to, parents can’t protect their children from the consequences of their bad decisions. But they can recognize the limits of their children’s social and emotional development and guide them toward healthy decisions when their relationships have an online component. And equally important, parents can set the standard that victims of breaches of digital consent are to be always supported and never shamed.

The prevalence of social media has  created many new and daunting  challenges, and parents have a  key role in  educating and supporting their children as they navigate them.

 

Dr. Janet Rosenzweig  began working  with child sexual abuse in 1978, coming into this field  with credentials as a sexuality educator. Through four decades of work in public, non-profit and academic settings,  she  has focused on the need for  accurate and age appropriate information about human sexuality as a protective factor in promoting sexual health and safety and developing resources to help parents be a primary sexuality educator of their children.  She is the author of  The Sex-Wise Parent, and the executive director of The American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children

This  post first appeared at https://medium.com/sexual-assault-awareness-month-2019/what-parents-need-to-know-about-digital-consent-12e520bd0a03

 

 

 

 

 

To prevent abuse and promote health among kids, focus on impact of behavior  (Child Abuse Prevention Month, 2019)

To prevent abuse and promote health among kids, focus on impact of behavior (Child Abuse Prevention Month, 2019)

Each year, April is designated as child-abuse prevention month by public officials all over the United States, serving as a reminder of the need for all of us to focus on healthy child development. Happy, healthy children grow into happy, healthy, and productive adults and strengthen the economic and social fabric of our community.

April is also designated an Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and of course, the two issues intersect in several important ways.

One of the most obvious points of intersection is that abusers share a lack of regard for the impact their behavior has on the victim.

This month, former vice president Joe Biden was in the news for expressing a brand of affection that fits within his values of warm, hands-on contact with the public. But some people experience his touching as uncomfortable at best, and intrusive at worse.

On the more serious end of the spectrum are the type of sex offenders who develop relationships with victims and can convince themselves that the victim was a willing participant. Leaving Neverland, the HBO documentary describing singer Michael Jackson’s long-term, “loving” relationships with boys is an example.

Radio personality Robin Quivers offers another clear example of this type of ignorance.  At age 12, she gathered the courage to confront her sexually abusive father, who apparently was so disconnected from his victim that he believed that she had been enjoying the sex; he never touched Robin again, once he knew her truth.

Here are two much more commonly practiced behaviors which science has shown unequivocally hurt children:

  • Hitting: The data is in and respected organizations including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Psychological Association now warn  of the harms of hitting children and urge parents to use more supportive forms of discipline. All organizations might consider becoming No-Hit Zones;  faith-based organizations might consider following the example of Shiloh Baptist Church in Trenton, whose congregants voted  to make their church the first faith-based No-Hit Zone in the United States.
  • Psychological maltreatment: Constant insults, belittling, and threats take their toll on children. Many parents  just don’t pay close enough attention to their choice of words and tone — but in some families, terrorizing children seems to have become a sport. I’m shocked how many parents thinks it’s funny to scare the devil out of their child then  post the results online for others to see.

Both hitting and psychological abuse are known sources of toxic stress for children that can affect brain development, behavior, and relationships.

Most parents would do better if they knew better; everyone can spread the word about the impact of hitting and psychological maltreatment. We can have a long-term effect by raising this generation of children to focus on the impact all their behaviors have on others. And let’s reach out to the grown-ups too;  as Biden’s video explanation shows, it’s never too late to learn the lesson of considering the effects  your behaviors have on others.

Janet Rosenzweig, MS, PhD, MPA, is the executive director of The American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children  and the author of The Sex-Wise Parent  and   The Parent’s Guide to Talking About Sex: A Complete Guide to Raising (Sexually) Safe, Smart, and Healthy Children.  For more information, read her blog and follow @JanetRosenzweig on Twitter.

This post first appeared at philly.com

Today Show Online Interview on what parents need to know after “Leaving Neverland’

Today Show Online Interview on what parents need to know after “Leaving Neverland’

By Kavita Varma-White

It’s the elephant in the room of parenting topics: child sexual abuse.

And it’s no surprise parents have difficulty addressing it — especially with their children — because the statistics are so horrifying and sobering, you don’t want to believe them.

CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE STATISTICS:

  1. Approximately 1 in 6 boys and 1 in 4 girls are sexually abused before the age of 18, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
  2. 90 percent of children who are victims of abuse know their abuser, according to government reports.
  3. 60 percent of child victims are sexually abused by the people a family trusts.
  4. Nearly 40 percent of child victims are abused by older or more powerful children.

So what exactly can parents do? TODAY Parents asked experts for guidance on how to confront a threat that is still something many people feel “could never happen” to their child.

“What the statistics really should be telling us is that… all of us who care about kids and mental health and communities ought to be doing something about it,” says Janet Rosenzweig, author of ‘The Sex-Wise Parent’ and executive director of The American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children.

Rosenzweig and Katelyn Brewer, CEO of the child sexual abuse prevention organization, Darkness to Light, offer this advice:

1. TALK TO YOUR KIDS ABOUT SEX, EARLY AND OFTEN.

Rosenzweig says she’s always surprised at how parents find it difficult to talk about sex with their kids. “They can talk about poop and vomit… but for some reason, sex is more embarrassing than other bodily functions,” she says.

Start when kids are young enough to name their body parts and teach them proper anatomical terms. (Yes, call a penis a penis, a vagina a vagina, an elbow an elbow.)

Rosenzweig suggests making a “Family Values About Sex” checklist of questions and go through it with the family once a year. When kids are younger, start with questions like, “What terms are we going to use?” and “Who gets to see who in what stage of undress?” As kids age, the questions change accordingly.

Use as many teachable moments as you can find. If your child wants to be in a bedroom by themselves, explain it as a matter of privacy versus secrecy, saying: “Privacy means you get to do it by yourself but mommy and daddy know about it. Secrecy means that we don’t know about it, and our family doesn’t do secrecy.”

2. TEACH KIDS ABOUT AROUSAL (AS UNCOMFORTABLE AS THAT MAY BE).

Arousal might be one of the most important physiological responses related to sexual abuse that your kids need to know about. Explain why touching certain parts of their body makes them feel the way it does and who is allowed to do it to them. (The answer: No one but themselves can touch their mouth, their chest and their private parts.)

“Arousal is autonomic, a reflex that your body does in response to a stimuli,” explains Rosenzweig. “But one of the things that makes kids so vulnerable to being exploited is when you have a really skilled molester, they go out of their way to make sure their victims experience arousal, which feels good. And when kids equate arousal with love, they are sitting ducks for bad guys.”

Ultimately, kids need to know from an early age that they have agency over their own bodies.That means parents should never insist that kids kiss or hug people, whether it’s the grabby uncle at Thanksgiving or the cool babysitter.

3. YOUR KIDS ARE NEVER TOO OLD TO TALK ABOUT SEX AND SEXUAL ABUSE.

If you feel like you “missed the boat” continuing to talk to teens about sex, it’s not too late.

Nearly 40 percent of kids are abused by older children, and child on child sexual abuse has grown from 40 to 50 percent in the last 10 years, according to research by Darkness to Light. (The younger child in this scenario is in the 10-year-old age range.)

Much of these incidents are related to pornographic content online. Brewer says kids are “going to get access to [online] content anyway. And they don’t know what to do with their hormones once they see that content. So they test it with a younger, accessible child. They don’t mean to traumatize this child — they aren’t pedophiles — but the child is traumatized because something is taken from them that they didn’t consent to.”

“As much as we’d like to put our kids in a bubble, it’s not possible,” she says. “Actually sitting down and having that uncomfortable conversation with your kid is going to help prevent things in the long run because… they are going to understand that you are a safe person to talk to and you aren’t going to freak out that they’ve said the word sex to you because you brought it to them first.”

Also, if you have teens that won’t entertain a conversation, Brewer suggests different ways to communicate.

“Send them a link via text to an article,” she says. “That’s a great way to continue to have the conversation without even having it.”

4. PAY ATTENTION TO WHO YOUR KID IS SPENDING TIME WITH.

Kids are going to be in situations where they may have one-on-one time with individuals, whether it’s friends, teachers, coaches or sitters.

So how do you not get paranoid with every person your child is with?

Having such routine conversations will make a child feel OK to tell you if there is ever an incident where they do feel uncomfortable.

Brewer adds that while it’s important to minimize opportunity of incidents of child sex abuse by avoiding isolated situations with adults or other youths, it’s best to take a rational approach and trust your gut.

“If someone is spending considerable one-on-one time with your child, redirect their energy. Make them get together in public places. A lot of sexual abuse happens in the car. Don’t let them be in the car together,” she says.

5. KNOW THAT ‘STRANGER DANGER’ IS A MYTH.

“We have grown up with ‘stranger danger’ being forced down our throats,” says Brewer, referring to the idea that kids should avoid strangers to be safe from predatory activity.

The reality: 90 percent of people who are abused are abused by people who they know and trust.

“If that doesn’t make you pay attention to what is happening in your own back yard, I don’t know what will,” says Brewer.

People who abuse children look and act just like everyone else. They go out of their way to appear trustworthy, and seek out settings where they can gain easy access to children.

6. EDUCATE YOURSELF ON THE SIGNS OF CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE.

This is always the hardest with parents, says Brewer, because there aren’t always specific physical signs. “Trauma manifests itself differently” in everyone, Brewer says.

Focus on the extremes, she says. “If there is an extreme reaction to something, trust your gut and know something may be wrong.”

One example is the student who all of a sudden is growing their hair out, gaining weight, wearing baggy clothes, dabbling in substances. They are doing things that are going to hide the pain, hide themselves from what’s actually happening.

“They do that to try and look unattractive, so their abuser won’t want them anymore,” says Brewer.

7. KNOW THE THREE WORDS TO SAY IF A CHILD TELLS YOU OF ABUSE.

If your child, or any child you know, comes to you with a potential disclosure of being a sex abuse victim, there is only one thing to say: “I believe you.”

“Those three words alone start a conversation off the right way,” says Brewer. “Don’t interrogate them. There are professionals who know how to do that. Making your child relive that trauma is not helpful to you, to the child, or to the professional. They are the ones that are going to ask the right question to get the information they need.”

Rosenzweig adds that one of the toughest things for parents is to not feel guilty upon hearing of a potential abuse situation. But, you should never make a kid feel bad about it.

The response should be all about thanking your child for being brave enough to tell you about it. Ultimately, says Rosenzweig: “The amount of courage it took to break the spell and seek help is nothing short of heroic.”

A lesson from “After Neverland” — Seduced kids don’t relate to the term ‘sex abuse’!

A lesson from “After Neverland” — Seduced kids don’t relate to the term ‘sex abuse’!

Millions of people were glued to the HBO documentary, Leaving Neverland, but many turned away. Some turned away because they believe these were false allegations, but others – particularly parents – turned away because they just could not emotionally handle the words of the young men describing how easy it was for a predator to seduce a child in front of their parents and the world.

This is understandable. Healthy people are wired to not think of children in a sexual way. But please don’t look away – it’s this aversion that gives predators cover. Find the courage to work through your discomfort and make talking about sexual health and safety an important part of your family life.

Here are basics that adults need to know:

  • As Oprah Winfrey helped make so clear in the special that aired after Leaving Neverland, sex abuse does not always hurt! In fact, for many kids, being singled out by a high-status adult, receiving special attention, affection and gifts may be a highlight in their lives.
  • Predators seduce victims through a gradual process of benign touch, progressing to touching of genitals, then to sexual acts.
  • Many acts of sexual abuse do not cause physical pain — it does not feel like abuse.
  • Some acts of sexual abuse cause physical pleasure, which can be extraordinarily confusing for a victim

Here are some basics that children need to know:

  • There is a difference between privacy and secrecy – as kids mature, they earn the right to privacy, but children should NEVER keep secrets from their parents for more than a very short time (like knowing about a surprise party).
  • Their genitals will feel good when touched in certain ways. Most kids figure this out for themselves when they discover masturbation. This feeling just means that their body is working right — it is NEVER to be confused with love at any age!
  • Their parents are always there to help or answer questions.
  • A grownup might look uncomfortable occasionally talking about sex, because they are used to sex being private.
  • If a parent can’t answer a question immediately, they’ll find an answer and communicate it to the child in an age-appropriate way.

The level of detail will vary by age. If parents provide an emotionally safe space for discussion, the questions of their children can guide the topics and detail.

The phrase, “sexual abuse” is certainly correct from a legal and moral standpoint, but too often it lacks accuracy and confuses children. As young boys, the men interviewed in Leaving Neverland did not feel abused until much later in life. I’ve experienced adult women speaking to me after a workshop telling me that until they learned that day that sexual arousal was an autonomic reflex, they had  always felt complicit in their abuse.

Child and adolescent victims lack knowledge and language to understand; but this knowledge and language is a gift all parents can give.  It may  help prevent your child from being entrapped or from feeling responsible if lightning strikes.

 

Janet Rosenzweig, MS, PhD, MPA, is the executive director of The American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children  and the author of The Sex-Wise Parent  and   The Parent’s Guide to Talking About Sex: A Complete Guide to Raising (Sexually) Safe, Smart, and Healthy Children.  For more information, read her blog and follow @JanetRosenzweig on Twitter.

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Take the Doctors Advice — Don’t Spank

Today is an important  day to  take a brief diversion from my focus on  sexual abuse prevention and  honor an important  landmark  for anyone who works with child maltreatment — If you you ever wondered  whether it’s OK to spank your kids, the American Academy of Pediatrics says an emphatic “no” in an updated policy statement issued Monday that calls for a ban on corporal punishment, or spanking. Thousands of professionals who work with children and families agree.

Why? Decades of scientific evidence show that, when compared with children who were not hit for discipline, those who were hit have an increased risk for health problems of all kinds as they age: social, behavioral, cognitive, emotional, and physical. They’re at risk for increased aggressive behavior, anxiety, and depression.

The stress of being spanked or even severely verbally admonished can raise levels of stress hormones in children and teens in ways that impede brain development. Overly harsh discipline such as hitting disrupts a child’s ability for bonding and attachment to parents and caregivers, the very backbone of loving family life and a foundational element in learning how to be social.

Current data show most U.S. adults report that they’ve been spanked and believe it is a necessary form of discipline. There is a common thought of  “I turned out OK, so how bad can it be?” Of course, we may all be OK, but it’s time to stop the practice, given what we know now. Let’s not forget the times back then. In the 1960s, parents didn’t make kids wear seatbelts.