All too often, bullying can begin at home!

All too often, bullying can begin at home!

It’s heartbreaking to read about the death of Rebecca Sedgewick, the little girl who killed herself after bullies convinced her that her life was not worth living.  We  might imagine bullies as queen bees, mean girls or privileged jocks and like any stereotype there can be a grain of truth in those images.   But all too often, bullying begins at home.   A 2009 study found that “both sibling bullying and sibling victimization were associated with bullying and victimization at school.”   *

In fact, many researchers believe that sibling abuse is the most under-reported type of abuse. A sibling with more power than the others may exert that power on one or more of the other kids and parents are often completely unaware.  Parents must become aware of the differences between good-natured teasing and vicious bullying;  an important tactic is to asses if the target child is mad or terrified. If the answer is terrified, get involved immediately.

Bullies generally lack empathy, or the ability to sense the effect their behavior is having on others. Little kids need a constant reminder of the golden rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” By the time they’re adolescents but still lacking in real empathy (as is developmentally normal)  kids will at least have a foundation of the concept of empathy in their minds, if not their heart.

Parents can help prevent bullying by discussing and modeling empathy, and speaking clearly to a child who does not show empathy about why that is wrong.   When  parents  learn about or observe a child exerting any type of power unfairly over another,  they can ask the simple question, “How do you think that makes the other child feel?” This is not meant to be a rhetorical question; rather, it should start an important discussion between parent and  child.

Empathy is not natural for adolescents; they have too much internal angst going on to spend much energy on anyone else’s feelings. Empathy must be learned early on and as with any family value parents are the most important teacher.  Promoting appropriate treatment of siblings and other younger kids is a great place to start this lesson. Never stop saying “Stop and think how that makes your sister feel” or, “How would you feel if someone treated you that way?” If done consistently, your message and rules will follow your child from the home into the community, and a loving relationship between siblings will  follow them into the future!

You can find a detailed discussion on siblings in chapter 8 of The Sex-Wise Parent:  A Parent’s Guide to Protecting Your Child, Strengthening Your Family and Talking to Your Kids About Sex Abuse and Bullying, now on special from Kindle for $1!

 

 

What Parents Need to Know: The one “fact of life” that kids must learn early

What Parents Need to Know: The one “fact of life” that kids must learn early

No matter how much discipline we try to exert over our bodies, in some ways they’re just going to do what they’re going to do. We breathe, we have reflexes, when we’re scared our bodies make ready to fight or flee.  And anyone who has ever diapered a boy baby has probably seen a tiny erection, a reflexive physical reaction.

It is absurd to think that a baby’s genital feelings are sexual — babies have no concept of sexuality and just naturally respond to anything that feels good. Human bodies are wired to react to many types of stimulation without conscious decision — like getting goose bumps, or blinking. These types of bodily responses, including physical arousal of the genitalia, are called autonomic responses. They are governed by the autonomic nervous system and not conscious choice.

What does this have to do with sexual health and safety?

Many popular sex abuse prevention programs focus on teaching kids about “good touch-bad touch”, but the words of one adult survivor of sexual abuse must be heard: “No one ever tells a child that a wrong touch might actually feel good!” In fact, molesters often count on a child not knowing this critical fact of life, and use a child’s physical response to convince him or her that they were a willing participant. Similarly, a young man who does not know that his arousal came directly from his own brain may choose to ‘blame’ his arousal on someone and attempt to coerce them to relieve it, an all too familiar story heard from sexually aggressive adolescents.  Parents of young children have an opportunity to set a foundation for sexual health and safety by helping make sure their child understands how their genitals work.

Transmitting this message to kids can be as easy as doing nothing. Simply, a non-reaction to a baby handling their genitals gives the message that as parents we’ll treat all body parts equally. As babies become toddlers, we can set boundaries around genital play, focusing on privacy, much the same way as we present potty-training; there’s a time and place for everything. We can also begin to introduce the difference between privacy and secrecy; a child can learn that there are things she can do in private, but Mom and Dad need to know about them. Parents of toddlers can prepare to answer questions coming from a child who knows that he can ask his parents anything.

One mom interviewed for The Sex-wise Parent shared her total meltdown when her 3 1/2 year-old son asked, “Mommy, why does my winky get big sometimes?” Another expressed how hard she had to work not to reprimand her four-year-old daughter who loved to rub favorite toys on her genitals in the bath. Both of these parents were off to a good start by not punishing their child for talking about sex or pleasuring themselves, and both have an opportunity to do more.

A question about an erection can be answered with an age-appropriate version of this: “Sometimes our bodies do things all by themselves because of how they feel, like when you laugh if you’re tickled. Penises get bigger when they feel good, whether you told it to nor not.” The pre-school girl may be ready to hear, “I know it feels special when you rub your vagina, but don’t rub too hard; vaginas can get scratched too, like your knee did when you feel off your bike yesterday.”

Speaking like this to your child may feel odd at first; a great way to prepare is to practice with your spouse or a friend. Take turns thinking of the toughest question you fear hearing from a little one, then help each other craft short, clear answers. The more you say the words and phrases with a trusted friend or partner, the easier it will be to speak to your child with pleasant authority instead of discomfort.

Comfort, knowledge and language about the sexual parts of the body are crucial to the foundation of sexual health and safety for our kids. Children with knowledge and language are less appealing to molesters, who seek out kids lacking the tools to speak up. Children who know the fundamental difference between healthy privacy (“I can do it without Mom or Dad watching“) and secrecy (“Mom and Dad can’t know about this“) are less likely to be sworn to the silence that provides cover to people who sexually abuse children.   And, if a child is touched inappropriately like thousands are each year,  the knowledge that their body’s autonomic reaction doesn’t make them complicit and that there are no secrets from mom and dad will spare them the devastating confusion resulting from experiencing a physical response that they neither wanted nor expected.

Having those frank discussions about genitalia with your children while they’re still young enough to want your answers means they’ll be more likely to listen to you as they negotiate the turbulent teen years.  Good luck!

 

This post was written for  the Healthy Kids column at Philly.com, published 9/24/2013

http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/healthy_kids/The-one-fact-of-life-that-kids-must-learn-early.html

A lesson for parents from a pedophile

A lesson for parents from a pedophile

A convicted child molester in Florida recently contacted a tv station to tell how he had succeeded in abusing two young girls in the same family over a two-year period, and several others in the same community.

It’s hard to say why he came forward now (you can read about it here), and it’s hard to know how much of his story is true, but I worked with pedophiles as a counselor early in my career and interviewed others researching my book  for my book for parents, and his remarks certainly ring true to me.

He offers one lesson you can take to the bank: Earning the children’s trust was easy because “If they believe that you will listen to them they start asking you questions about the body and sex that they are afraid to talk to their parents and others about. That’s really how it got started.”

Most everybody is very careful about discussing body issues with their children, and why? Most parents would probably say they want to protect their kids from information that’s inappropriate or that they’re  too young to handle. But these attempts to be careful are actually having the opposite effect.

I would argue that parents are really protecting themselves — needlessly — from starting a conversation that makes them uncomfortable to think about. But what we can see from this molester in Florida is that by protecting yourself you’re leaving a big open window through which a pedophile can grab your child. Or, as in this case, your children.

I don’t suggest you run around the house naked or make sex a part of every conversation. And you can’t do the job in one talk or in one day anymore than you can teach a child about love, respect and kindness in a week.

But if you don’t start the conversation, someone else might, and then your family could be in trouble.

The Sex-Wise Parent  walks parents through the steps of raising sexually safe and healthy children. Sure, it takes a little doing. But they’re your kids, and they deserve it.

And if you don’t teach them what every kid wants and needs to know about their bodies, you never can tell who will.

How’s the ‘sexual climate’ of your child’s school?

How’s the ‘sexual climate’ of your child’s school?

Most of us pay no attention to the weather unless something extraordinary happens — a horrible storm, or a gloriously sunny day in the middle of winter. Likewise, most people pay no attention to the sexual climate in the places they spend their time each day until something doesn’t feel right. Maybe the jokes are just a little bit too risqué, displays of affection are too intense, or questionable photos are hanging over a colleague’s desk; something just feels creepy. A lot of adults relate this concept to their workplace, but few of us recognize that it also applies to our kids’ schools.

Kids spend most of their waking hours in school, and schools each have their own climate or “social feel”.  A school’s “culture” would be its policies, procedures, rules and regulations, while school “climate” refers to how it actually feels to be in a school.  This is a difficult concept for people who have spent time in few schools, but the differences can be vast. Researchers use variations in school climate to predict outcomes like academic achievement, rates of bullying, and sexual health and safety.

What is a healthy sexual climate?

Every school has a physical, social, affective and academic environment, and they can all relate to sexual health and safety. Here are some examples of what we don’t want in the school climate:

  • Children terrified to change clothes in the locker room or walk through certain corridors;
  • A popular teacher texting favorite students;
  • Sexual slurs used with impunity; and
  • A bus driver whose hand brushes against a student’s butt as she exits.

On the other hand, here are some examples of what we hope for:

  • Faculty and staff who understand the psychosexual developmental stages of their students and have appropriate expectations;
  • An air of mutual respect between genders, between adults and students,            between administration and staff and people of different sexual orientation;
  • Locker room and bathroom privacy with age-appropriate adult supervision; and
  • Parents who model and reinforce these ideals at home.

A school with a healthy sexual climate promotes tolerance and respect, and the faculty and staff respond quickly to real or perceived threats including rumor, innuendo and bullying.

Why is it important to understand sexual climate?

  • To eliminate student-staff sexual relationships: A 2004 report commissioned by the US Department of Education, still considered the most  authoritative study on this topic  concluded that at least 5 percent of students report sexual contact with school personnel by the time they graduate. High-profile cases of student-teacher sexual relationships are making the news more frequently, but their incidence is not new at all. No parent wants to consider the awful possibility of their child in a sexual relationship with an adult charged with their care. A school with an unhealthy sexual climate can provide cover for predators disguised as a popular teacher or coach.
  • To improve learning: A school owes your child accurate, unbiased and age-appropriate education on topics where sex and sexuality have a role. Art and history, for example, join anatomy and physiology as topics requiring a healthy sexual climate for learning.
  • To stop bullying: No child can learn when he or she feels unsafe. An unhealthy sexual climate may show itself in girls who fear being fondled when walking through crowded halls, boys terrified of locker room antics or sexual-minority youth being targeted for bullying or physical violence.

What can a parent do?

Open communication with your children is important here, as it is with many parenting issues. Pay attention to how students and teachers speak and behave when you visit the school, and don’t just visit on parent-teacher days. Use this  checklist  to help assess the sexual climate in your child’s school and contact school officials if you have any concern.  Remember, the climate of any organization is determined by its members, and parents are very important members of a school community.

Dr. Janet Rosenzweig is the national consultant for child sexual abuse prevention for Prevent Child Abuse America and the author of The Sex-Wise Parent. For more information, read her blog or contact DrRosenzweig@sexwiseparent.com to schedule a program for your school or community group.

 

 This article originally appeared at  http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/healthy_kids/Hows-the-sexual-climate-of-your-childs-school.html

 

A sex-wise parent’s view on how to prepare your child for back-to-school

While conducting focus groups for my book, The Sex-Wise Parent, the son of a minister shared how his parents prepared him for his first day of school.  I love the lessons from this story so much that I want to share it with parents everywhere.

Tom and his family had just moved to a new town so his father could attend  to a new parish.   Tom was set to attend a school serving boys from first grade through 12th, and at six years of age, this was his first year of school.

Maybe because it was the 60’s, or maybe because of their own childhood memories — whatever the reason — Mom and Dad were pretty sure that  the older boys in  this school would be all too willing to teach little Tom their version of  the birds and bees.  These sex-wise parents sat down with their son together with a book that included charts and diagrams of sexual and reproductive anatomy and physiology.  They explained male and female anatomy and how  people got pregnant, and encouraged him to ask questions.  He recalled  “I asked them if (ejaculation)  was like peeing in there — YUK !”   Decades later, he still recalls their patient answer that “one set of tubes shuts off so the other can work — so that seeds can come out instead of pee.”

The other focus group members and I listened in dumbstruck awe and envy.  How lucky was Tom!   When the older boys teased and told stories about sex, he was prepared with the truth.   Tom’s parents sent him off to his first day of school filled with factual information wrapped up in their family’s values.

Tom also learned that sexual touching  was special and reserved for people in love.  What a contrast to today, when so many kids hear about sexual touching for the first time in the context of a good touch/bad touch sex abuse prevention program.   By teaching Tom that sexual touching was part of a loving, special, grown up relationship, they were de facto teaching him that any grown up who tried to touch him in a sexual way was doing something wrong.  And most importantly, they were modeling that they were open to hearing what he had to ask or say about sex.

Their final words on the topic also warmed my heart.  When I asked Tom if his parents were worried about him telling the other kids about sex he replied, “Not at all.   In fact, they told me that getting to tell a child about sex was a privilege reserved for parents, and it was my job to keep this to myself so other parents get to have the very special conversation with their kids like we’d just had”.

Not everyone has the comfort and skills of Tom’s parents, but any parent can develop them!  I wrote The Sex-Wise Parent to help parents do just  that, and provide helpful resources at my website.  Please —  use these resources to help make yours a sexually safe and healthy family, school and community.

Family Summer Safety Tips Part 2 –Restroom Safety!!

Family Summer Safety Tips Part 2 –Restroom Safety!!

Part 2 in my series for the Centre Daily Times, State College, PA

  An important summer safety rule is to drink lots of liquids, but we all know what that means — bathroom breaks. When you’re traveling and nature calls you may not have time to be choosy but there’s always time to be careful, especially when traveling with children.

The best option is to use the “family restroom.” A single stall with its own entry provides privacy and security; a stall designated for people with disabilities may fit the bill.

Stay with a child until about age 8 or 9 in a multiple toilet facility even if the child has hit the “I can do it myself” stage. As children get older, they should still be kept within range for you to see or hear them.

Things get more complicated when the child and adult are not the same gender.

Boys traveling with mothers reach an age when they hate being dragged into a ladies’ room. Too bad. Sex offenders watch for this when seeking targets. Never accept an offer from a seemingly nice guy to keep an eye on your son. If you notice a family where a man leaves his wife and takes his son to the men’s room, consider asking him to keep an eye on your son. It’s difficult to imagine someone hurting a child with his own as a witness, but use the 300-second rule. This means setting a time limit of 300 seconds for a trip to the men’s room. Both of you should start counting together, and do not hesitate to walk in if you reach 301. Always be aware of your child’s location and keep your eyes glued to the exit.

Men traveling with girls have a bigger problem because urinals are rarely in stalls. Girls old enough to be out of diapers are old enough to recognize that men are urinating. Dads can carry a little girl into a restroom, shielding her eyes, and head right to stall with a door. Because of this, girls may age out of accompanying their fathers at a younger age than boys with their mothers. When this happens, consider asking a mother heading into the ladies room with her kids to watch your daughter. And still play the counting game.

Teens need to be reminded that drug users, purse snatchers and sex offenders are among the unsavory people that can operate in a restroom. Remind teens to scope out restrooms with caution and common sense. Parents may feel more at ease if there are a dozen people lined up for the facility. Bad guys (or gals) don’t operate well with witnesses. On the other hand, if the crowd is all teens, consider finding another option for your younger child. Teen judgment is not fully developed and this can lead to the occasional cruel or stupid act.

Common sense should rule. Kids need to learn that life is not always totally safe. Discussing restroom safety is a great opportunity to teach your child to be aware and cautious.

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). This weekly column is a collaboration of Centre County Communities that Care serving Bald Eagle, Bellefonte, Penns Valley and Philipsburg-Osceola area school districts, and Care Partnership: Centre Region Communities that Care serving the State College Area School District.

Read more here: http://www.centredaily.com/2013/07/17/3690651/communities-that-care-restroom.html#storylink=cpy
CentreDaily.com
Family Summer Safety Tips:  Part 1 ~ Discuss safety rules prior to family vacation

Family Summer Safety Tips: Part 1 ~ Discuss safety rules prior to family vacation

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 with your family. Spend a few more minutes planning for safety and improve the odds that the vacation will be everything you want it to be.

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 men or older boys. 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). This weekly column is a collaboration of Centre County Communities that Care serving Bald Eagle, Bellefonte, Penns Valley and Philipsburg-Osceola area school districts, and Care Partnership: Centre Region Communities that Care serving the State College Area School District.

 

This article appeared originally at  http://www.centredaily.com/2013/07/10/3682979/communities-that-care-discuss.html

Read more here: http://www.centredaily.com/2013/07/10/3682979/communities-that-care-discuss.html#storylink=cpy
A reply to a judge who thinks boys vctimized by women are “lucky”

A reply to a judge who thinks boys vctimized by women are “lucky”

Myth or fact? Sexual abuse is less harmful to boys than girls.

When we teach adults how to protect children from child sexual abuse, we start with “Learn the facts.” Here’s the first fact: The long term consequences for victims of child sexual abuse are nearly identical regardless of gender, according to a number of recent studies.

Our societal perception frequently does not recognize this when it comes to women abusing boys. In this regard, a very important discussion was presented in a recent Statesman article between the Ada County prosecutor and the judge in a case regarding the abuse of eight teenage boys by a 35-year-old mother in Kuna.

According to the article, the judge disagreed with the prosecutor, who argued that female perpetrators are “treated more leniently than men and that boys (abused by women) are somehow considered ‘lucky.'” The judge concluded that “there is a difference” between boys abused by women and girls abused by men. “I have a problem articulating what the difference is,” he said.

Unfortunately, this perception that there is a difference can lead to irreparable harm for male victims. According to the authors of an authoritative study reported in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, sexual abuse significantly increases the risk of developing health and social problems – such as drug and alcohol abuse, mental illness, and marital strife – in both men and women. A history of suicide attempts was more than twice as likely among both male and female victims as among non-victims.

For boys abused by women there is also much social stigma and confusion associated with telling anyone about the abuse. According to Dr. Janet Rosenzweig in her excellent book, “The Sex-Wise Parent,” “because sexual arousal is autonomic and a relatively easy response to elicit from an adolescent male, a boy may think he chose to engage in a sexual act, simply because of the physical response.” Lost to him is the idea that sex requires mutual consent that is both intellectual and emotional.

In the case reported in the Statesman, the perpetrator was punished and the boys were able to tell their stories. Too often that is not the case. Unrecognized and unexamined the effects of abuse will shape the adults they become in unhealthy ways and make it difficult for them to have healthy relationships and build strong families.

As Rosenzweig reports, “The earliest sexual experiences often form the foundation for lifelong associations with sexual behavior. These boys may now have sexuality strongly associated with emotions other than love, respect and affection which are the foundations of building a strong family.”

And here’s the last fact: We know that one in six boys is sexually abused by the time he is 18. It is up to adults to stop it now. We can start by recognizing that our boys are damaged when more powerful adults abuse their position for their own gratification.

Roger Sherman is the executive director of Idaho Children’s Trust Fund the state affiliate of Prevent Child Abuse America.

Read more here: http://www.idahostatesman.com/2013/07/12/2651461/boys-sexually-victimized-by-women.html#storylink=cpy
This op-ed appeared in the Idaho Statesman  7/12/2013

Please stop saying child abuse “prevention” when describing detection and reporting

To the Editor:

Pennsylvania has taken some important steps since the Sandusky tragedy came to light but many holes still exist in our safety net for children.

One of the largest is the fact that people are still using the word ‘prevention’ of child sexual abuse when they really mean detection and reporting.   By the time there is something to report and detect, it’s too late for real prevention.    We don’t say we prevented a case of influenza when we’ve recognized the symptoms and take someone to a doctor; we say we prevented influenza with a flu shot.   We don’t say we prevented a fire when we dispatch a truck to a burning home; we say we prevented a fire when we help ensure that every home has a working smoke detector. Using the term prevention when describing detection and reporting diminishes real prevention  efforts and reduces the likelihood they will be replicated.

The last decade has seen an impressive increase in the ability to bring real prevention to communities and families.  Real prevention is ensuring that communities and families have access to the resources they need to raise healthy, productive, and successful children.  Resources might be material, social or educational.  Such resources include ensuing that parents understand child development so they have realistic expectation of children’s capabilities at different ages.   Resources for ensuing sexual health and safety also include helping parents understand psychosexual development, and helping them develop  the comfort and knowledge to open the lines of communication with their children.  In the past year, I have seen organizations in State College take huge steps in towards this type of real prevention and they need continued support and encouragement to continue.

As we look back at lessons learned in the past year, none is more important than the fact that real prevention is possible.  Now is the time to systematically coordinate and support prevention efforts, not just in State College but throughout Pennsylvania.    Let’s ask our legislators to support legislation designed to prevent abuse before it ever  occurs.

This letter was unpublished at:  http://www.pennlive.com/opinion/index.ssf/2013/07/child_sexual_abuse_real_prevention_looks_like.html#incart_river

Dr. Janet Rosenzweig has been working with child sexual abuse for three decades. She currently is the national consultant for child sexual abuse prevention programs for Prevent Child Abuse America  and  is  the author of The Sex-Wise Parent (Skyhorse 2012) She is an alumnus of Penn State and has returned to that community multiple times  to support efforts at prevention.

Changing Times~ prepare your child for the summer camp locker room!

Changing Times~ prepare your child for the summer camp locker room!

While the world changes around us, some things are timeless. The exhilarating feeling of a sweaty body hitting cool water never changes; neither does the anxiety of changing into a swimsuit in front of other kids.

Kids respond uniquely to the changing experience. Some kids could not care less; others find it terrifying. How will your child react? How can you help?

What can influence  a child’s reaction?

Age plays a big role.

Pre-school and younger kids generally don’t care. They just want to swim.

Sometime around age 5 or 6, children become aware of the differences between people; their curiosity levels vary. For some kids, different size or shaped genitals may be no more interesting than variations in facial features. As kids are exposed to various images emphasizing and sexualizing body parts, associations set in. It is not unusual for a 6 year old girl to “know” that bigger breasts are a sort of status symbol. Group changing can be particularly uncomfortable for pre-teens; they are often highly  status conscious and confused about the changes in their body.

Family’s norms will have an effect.

Camp preparation is a good time to pay attention to the messages you send your child about the difference between privacy and secrecy. Private means we choose who to share something with; secrecy means no one knows. There should be no secrets between parents and children regarding their bodies; families develop their own values about privacy. Children from families with more stringent norms about privacy may need additional preparation for changing time. If you have been avoiding this issue now is the time to talk to your child!

Who’s in charge?

The locker room is one of the worst places to be bullied or teased — a child is particularly vulnerable. Having trained, mature staff manage the experience is crucial.

Parents should know who supervises changing time. Young camp staff can still be struggling through their own adolescent issues and may not be the most sensitive human beings. It may be impossible to have a developmental psychologist in every summer program, but it is a great idea for  a camp provide a training session for all its staff.

What can you do?

Prepare your child with a preventative discussion; this is a good topic to slip into a conversation about summer camp. “Are you looking forward to swimming? The changing room can be interesting; kids your age can look pretty different from each other.”

Don’t forget the ultra-practical — make sure the swimsuit is simple. Locker rooms are no place for fancy decorations that could get tangled or fasteners beyond a child’s reach. If the child just HAS to have something really fancy, practice getting in and out of the suit with your child.

Check in with your child once the program is in progress. Try mixing a personal thought with a question, for example, “How’s the locker room experience going? I remember everyone giggling so hard we could hardly get our suits on,” or “I remember being teased because I had (or didn’t have) hair (pubic hair, leg hair) before other kids did.”

Getting ready for summer camp provides great opportunities to discuss privacy, secrecy, puberty, peer pressure and other issues where parents want to transmit their values to children. Take advantage of it! You’ll get closer to your kids and help keep them safe and healthy!

 

Janet Rosenzweig MS, PhD, MPA is the author of the Sex-Wise Parent  (Skyhorse, 2012)  and  a thirty year veteran of child welfare and youth serving programs.  She is committed to bringing the best possible  information to parents  to help them raise safe, healthy, happy kids.