Don’t give a predator an advantage!

On a beautiful Sunday morning, I was enjoying a walk in a park, admiring the views, the gardens, the art and the variety of people, when something caught my eye and took my thoughts right back to work. A mom was strolling with her two young children and both kids had their first names written in huge letters on the back of their tie-dyed sweatshirts.

I think this is a dangerous thing to do.  Twenty years ago, when law enforcement stressed stranger-danger and abduction-prevention advice to parents, a cardinal rule was to avoid personalizing children’s clothes. The fear was that predators could call kids by their first names and engage them through familiarity.

While I’m the first to remind anyone who will listen that the overwhelming majority of sexual abuse against children is perpetrated by someone they know, there’s absolutely no reason why we should we give any predator an advantage. Kids need to know about boundary-pushing relatives or acquaintances who prey on children and youth, and that strangers can be predators as well. Adults can turn to the Take 25 Campaign from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children as a resource to start the conversation in their family using the materials available in English and Spanish.

Predators who would take advantage of a child’s name on her clothing often feign familiarity and indicate that the parent sent them to pick the child up. Another recommendation that bears repeating is for families to specify a code word that a child should expect to hear from any adult claiming to know the child or his family. Preparation is so important; young children — and many adults — are incapable of outwitting a charming sociopath.

Stranger-danger is easier for parents to talk about than sexuality but that conversation is not enough. Children will want to know what a stranger can do that is so scary and if we don’t explain in developmentally appropriate concepts, kids will fill in the blanks. They have many fears and any child with access to the media knows that sex crimes occur.  Please don’t let your children share the experience of a child who believed that a stranger might ‘rake’ her, which she thought meant being beaten with a garden tool.  The comprehensive discussion about child safety might come after sharing the personal, positive aspects of sexuality and this resource can provide guidance.  Then a  safety discussion can cover the fact there are people who try to abuse a child’s personal and private sexuality.  The first discussions with their parents about sex should revolve around love and intimacy, not stranger danger and anxiety.

Monogram your kids’ robes and pajamas, and discuss why you don’t want their names on their sweatshirts and jackets.   It can provide another opportunity to foster the kind of discussions that strengthen families and protect children.

 

This article first appeared in the Healthy Kids blog of philly.com at   http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/healthy_kids/Dont-give-a-predator-an-advantage.html

 

The complicated job of choosing a book explaining sex to your child

The complicated job of choosing a book explaining sex to your child

Kids need to learn about their bodies and sex; parents know that. But most parents struggle to find the right way to teach them. A good book, carefully chosen, can help you teach sexual   health and safety, but where to start to find the perfect book?

The local branch of a chain bookstore had sections for pre-schoolers and teens. In the area for very young kids, I found a few books with catchy titles and age-appropriate graphics, dedicated either to helping little kids learn where babies come from or how to avoid stranger danger.

While several books had good information, each book I read had at least one point that killed it for me. For example, one book offered the fact that “penises get hard so they can go into vaginas”. That’s no help to a child whose penis gets hard in the bath, in his sleep or worse yet, at the touch or a predator. A parent reading this book could add their own explanation or substitute their own words for the author’s.   Parents may think that adding their own commentary defeats the purpose of using a book to help communicate the most sensitive points, but what it really does is underline that books are not a substitute for an on-going conversation between parents and kids.

Books written to teach kids to protect their ‘private parts’ from predators aren’t a great choice as the first or sole source of information about genitals, mainly because we don’t want the child’s first knowledge to be based on fear. Initial conversations should focus on everyday things, like toilet and bathing hygiene and responses to questions.  If you find a book with this message that fits your values, read it with your child and consider it the opening to an on-going conversation.

When I moved on to the teen section, most of the books I found did a decent job presenting reproduction. In that context some books did OK discussing sexual arousal for boys; after all, a male needs to be aroused to reproduce. Books directed to girls generally did  a good job explaining ovulation and menstruation, but female sexual arousal was nowhere to be found. Only one book even mentioned that vaginas produce fluids other than menstruation, but it did not present the anatomical fact that female genital lubrication is analogous to male erection as a reflexive physical sign of arousal. This is something that teens of both genders need to know so they can understand that reflexive responses to thoughts or stimulation are very different from emotional feelings.

If forced to choose one book for kids approaching or experiencing puberty, I’d land on You: The Owner’s Manual for Teens, (Scribner, 2011) written by a group of experts including TV’s Dr. Mehmet Oz.  This book goes from head to toe explaining the changing human body and is written in a way that shows respect for a teen’s intelligence. I caught Oz’s daughter Daphne on her television show teasing easily and appropriately with colleagues about her sex life as a young wife — his advice seems to have worked!

 

Are you ready?

Before you chose a book, decide what you want your child to know.  Then read the book in the bookstore, in your library or on-line and see how the book meets your goal. Parent reviews of some of the highest rated books on this topic include the complaint that the book will open up topics and lead to questions before the child is ready. A well-researched book written by a credentialed and reputable author carefully considers child development; it is much more likely that the parent doesn’t feel ready to deal with a topic. If you need help getting comfortable, use the advice I offer in The Sex-Wise Parent  (Skyhorse, 2012).   One of the easiest things to do is to practice by reading the book with your spouse, partner or a trusted friend and anticipating comments or questions from the child.   Resist the temptation to just give a book to an older child until you read the entire book! You need to know what the author is teaching, and its context. National research results shows that teens report parents having more influence on their decisions about sex than peers or the media; a discussion about the contents of a book is a great way to share your opinions whether they match or differ from those in the book.

Books can be helpful components of promoting the sexual health and safety of your family but you’re never going to find the perfect book.   No book can transmit your family’s values and beliefs wrapped up in love for your child. But a good book, carefully chosen, can be an important addition to your efforts.

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 , follow @JanetRosenzweig on Twitter or contact DrRosenzweig@sexwiseparent.com to schedule a program for your school or community group.

THIS ARTICLE FIRST APPEAED IN THE HEALTHY  KIDS BLOG AT PHILLY.COM    http://bit.ly/Iebdrt

 

 

What parents need to know about pornography and kids

What parents need to know about pornography and kids

If your children have access to a device with Internet access — and it’s a good bet that they do — it’s an equally good bet they’ve been exposed to pornographic images.

A major study found that almost all boys and two-thirds of girls over age 13 have been exposed to online porn. Most exposure happens between the ages of 14 and 17, but thousands of children 13 and younger are exposed to sexually explicit images daily. Boys are more likely to report that they sought out pornographic images while girls were more likely to report involuntary exposure.

Impact of porn on kids:
Sexually explicit images and erotic art have had a place in almost every culture, so observing a sexual image is not necessarily harmful. But it’s all about context. Pornographic images are often reflections of sex that have nothing to do with real life and young people lack the context to know that. The very fact that such a private act is being shared with the world obliterates the concept of intimacy, and intimacy is an important aspect of sexual health and safety.

Early images influence a young person’s fundamental understanding of sexuality. People develop “sexual archetypes” or fundamental beliefs about sex, and viewing sexual images can become part of this development. If the people in the images look like people who could be a friends or neighbors then the acts may appear acceptable and an involuntary feeling of sexual arousal may make the act even seem more agreeable.

Archetypes become like shorthand the brain uses to immediately put things into categories prior to gathering additional information. For example, if you were bitten by a German Shepherd, the image of such a dog may become part of your archetype for fear. Sexual archetypes are developed when our brain stores information about the characteristics of images, experiences and/or people that lead to our sexual arousal, and the earliest associations with sexual arousal are very important.

The type of images kids see can influence their sexual archetypes and later sexual behavior. One study found that kids who had seen violent pornography were more than five times as likely to have forced or coerced someone into sex as kids who reported watching only non-violent porn. An association of sex and with violence or coercion threatens the sexual health and safety of your children and their future partners.

So what can a parent do?

First, use every technological resource available to limit your children’s access to pornography, including spam filters and parental controls on devices, software and browsers. If your child knows more about technology than you do, call your school or local library and ask if the resident technology professional can offer a workshop to parents.

But don’t count on technology; no measure is foolproof and purveyors of pornography and curious kids are both likely to figure out a way around them. This takes active parenting. Open a discussion about online pornography and consider it a great opportunity to share your family’s values about sexuality and pornography. Don’t start by asking their child if they’ve seen sexual images on line; assume that they have.

 Concepts to explore

Ask about the content of the images using medically accurate terms for body parts and sex acts. Acknowledge that curiosity is normal, and share that these images are fictional and have nothing to do with real life love, sex and intimacy. Then consider exploring these issues:

  • Consent: Did the people in the pictures look like they’d both agreed to the sex act? Did one participant appear to be coercing or otherwise threatening the other? Impart the healthy value that in real life all sex requires explicit consent.
  • Emotions: What feelings did the people in the images seem to be experiencing? Make it clear that that the emotions associated with sex should be love, affection, warmth, and respect.
  • Intimacy: No matter what was going on in the image, the very fact that it was being recorded and shared shows that there was not intimacy; share that healthy sexuality is an expression of deeply private and intimate feelings between partners.
  • Arousal: Involuntary physical arousal from viewing sexual images may leave a youngster both exhilarated and shamed. Sexual arousal is instinctual and autonomic, and people of any age may find their body responding with arousal to an image they intellectually find repulsive. A discussion about the feelings associated with the arousal caused by the sight the pornographic image will break the secrecy and with it the power the images have over the child’s perception of sex.

Finally, while a demand that the child not watch porn is likely to be met with overt or covert resistance, suggest that the child’s future sex life will be much happier and more satisfying if he or she avoids it.   Maybe use the analogy that learning about sex from pornography makes as much sense as learning to drive by watching a NASCAR movie.  And, it can limit the ability to find the satisfaction that comes from sharing  experience with a partner.

The thought of this conversation may make any parent uncomfortable, but here’s the win: when you make an active effort to counteract the messages from online porn, you have a golden opportunity to replace the dysfunctional values with your own. And — research shows us that kids keep listening, even when acting like they’re not!

This article first appeared at Philly.com

A Sex Educator and a Parent:  My essay for “Rage Against the Mini-Van”  Mommy-blog

A Sex Educator and a Parent: My essay for “Rage Against the Mini-Van” Mommy-blog

As a sex educator, I’m used to being the odd person out. Unless hanging out with colleagues, I’m usually the only person in a group who will speak frankly about sexuality issues.  As a grad student, I’d get annoyed when peers spread misinformation and I’d freely offer corrections.  Luckily, I found an outlet working as a health educator and got paid for my advice and opinion. I recall providing workshops for foster parents struggling to handle sexual issues with the children placed with them.  I emphasized the PLISSIT model, developed by Jack Anon and widely endorsed by sexuality education groups. This is based on a belief that most sexual problems can be dealt with by giving someone permission to be sexual (that’s the P) and limited information about how their bodies work (there’s the LI).  A very small minority of people need specific suggestions (SS…) and fewer yet need intensive therapy.  I encouraged these parents to give their kids permission to be sexual and the information they needed to understand their bodies. These parents needed the P and LI as well; like any other aspect of parenting, we don’t suddenly know how because we gave birth.

And then I became a Mom. In retrospect, I realize that I practiced what I preached.  I still giggle at the memory of my son, barely age three, demonstrating that he was  integrating a conversation we’d had about male and female bodies. We were visiting my father and step-mother, rather staid people with plastic slip covers on brocade couches, when my son stared first my dad, then at his wife and looked at me to exclaim ” Grandma — gina, Grandpa penis, yes?”  O yes, I replied, that’s right! Boys and men have a penis and girls and women a vagina!  The only thing that matched my pleasure at his insight was the intensity of my step-mothers agitation….. “Where did he learn to talk like that?!” she sputtered, red faced and upset.  I never did find an explanation that she found acceptable.  I know that I gave my son permission to ask whatever he wanted and  limited information appropriate to his age.

Later, as he reached the “Mom we need a ride” phase, I was privy to all sorts of conversations observed from my rear-view mirror.  Jokes about girls were gently squashed. Misinformation about erections was corrected. My intervention was limited to kids whose parents I knew; otherwise misinformation was corrected in private as soon as we got home.

I recently learned that my son and his friends freely helped themselves to the college level sexuality text books I kept in my office. I knew only to leave books accessible that I was OK with him seeing, and it worked. A boy will reach an age when his Mom is the last person with whom he wants to discuss sexual arousal, and he needs to know where to go to get his questions answered.

Any parent can prepare themselves to be the primary sexuality educator for their children. We’ve known for years that parent-child communication about sex helps kids make better decisions about sexual activity and promotes their sexual health. Now that so many sex abuse prevention programs focus on stranger danger without mentioning sex, parent child communication about sex is critical to sexual safety as well!  I feel so strongly about this that I wrote The Sex-Wise Parent to help every parent do just that; talking about sex with our kids is not easy for so many of use, but you don’t need to be a professional sex educator to do it well; just an informed and loving parent.

Find more information at www.SexWiseParent.com and www.JanetRosenzweig.com

http://www.rageagainsttheminivan.com/2013/08/what-i-want-you-to-know-about-talking.html

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

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
T-Ball and Sex-Wise Parenting?  YES!

T-Ball and Sex-Wise Parenting? YES!

Summer means sports and baseball gloves are being oiled up in homes round the country.  Thoughts are turning to runs, hits, errors, uniforms, caps and spikes.

And cups.   It’s standard practice for leagues to require boys to wear a hard protective cup over their genitals during practice and games.  One family I know had a golden teachable moment when their 5 year old wanted know why he had to wear a cup over his penis.  “I’m not going to pee during a ballgame!”

Some parents might have answered the “why” question with a simple “Because it’s the rules”, a close cousin to “Because I said so”.   These answers have a place when disciplining a child, but in this instance would only stifle curiosity and an opportunity to share values and facts.

It’s fairly typical for pre-school aged boys to think of their entire genitalia as their penis.  This boys parents explained to their son and his now-curious brother that the penis is the name for the skinny part in front that boys use to pee, but behind it the sac that holds the special parts that men have that makes their Daddy seeds. And those parts, (called ballies in some families, testes in others) would hurt A LOT if they accidently got hit with a baseball!  They grabbed their copy of The Sex-Wise Parent, turned to the line drawing of male anatomy on page 59 and gave both of their sons an age appropriate lesson in sexual health  and safety.  Because of T-ball!

These little boys learned the anatomy of their genitals and  that Daddies make seeds in their testicles and mommies make seeds in their ovaries.  They learned that we take care of our genitals and keep them healthy – a precursor to a condom discussion due in about 10 years!

And, they learned that they can talk to their parents about ANYTHING, including their genitals — an important protective factor in keeping pedophiles at bay.

Before long, sex-wise parents will see how spontaneous, frank discussions with children as issues come up render THE TALK unnecessary!  Get more information at www.SexWiseParent.com!

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.

 

What can you do for Child Abuse Prevention Month? Here are 10 (PLUS!) good ideas to get started!

What can you do for Child Abuse Prevention Month? Here are 10 (PLUS!) good ideas to get started!

April is designated as Child Abuse Prevention Month in the United States, and it serves as a reminder that everyone can help keep all children safe and healthy.   Plan now and be part of this national effort on behalf of kids and parents!

And here’s more ideas, sent to  me by colleagues — can we add yours? tweet to @SexWiseParent

Support The Innocence Revolution — a global day to end child sexual abuse.

Read The National Plan to Prevent Sexual Abuse and Exploitation of Children — and ACT!!!

Please — don’t miss this opportunity to make a difference!