Let me start today’s blog post with a disclaimer; I’m not a qualified therapist, councillor, or psychologist. The methods I use are the ones that make sense to me as a father, and are appropriate for my children’s personalities and ages. I don’t claim to base my communication methods with my children on any scientific studies, and I don’t insist that you use them. I’m doing what feels right to me.
I can, however, claim to be an “amateur expert” in the field of child safety and molestation. I probably know more than 99.999% of the population about this topic and have attended courses and workshops on it. In addition I’ve done a ton of reading and research on this topic. You can find out more of my views and opinions on child safety at the Zen-Do for Kids website.
Okay, now that we got this out of the way, I just want to add that I think every parent should talk to their children about child molestation (please note I’m not talking about “stranger danger” or the well-intentioned-but-not-very effective “don’t talk to strangers” advice.) I’m talking about real, practical advice.
Debunking Some of The False Myths Parents Believe
Most parents assume one, some or all of the following:
– That child molestation happens somewhere else and could never happen in their home/neighbourhood/town/country/region/religion.
– That mostly strangers molest children.
– That if their child were to be molested their child would tell them immediately.
– That child molestation is a very rare occurrence.
There are more false assumptions, but let’s stick with these for now. Let me debunk these myths right now, so that we’re on the same page, you and I, okay? And if this topic makes you feel uncomfortable, please don’t stop reading, because this is important. Keep your desire to avoid this topic in check please. It could lead to saving a child from being molested and protecting it’s innocence.
– Child sexual (and other) molestation happens everywhere! There’s no country where it does not happen in. If humans live there than there’s bound to be some form of molestation, abuse or neglect of children. The difference between countries is the reporting of these incidents, and the way they handle it. Also, it could happen in your town, neighbourhood or compound. Studies have shown that child molestation does not happen in any specific area or social class. It happens in the poor, middle class and rich sectors of society.
– The vast majority of molestation happens from someone the child knows (90%). It could be a relative, family friend, teacher, etc. In many cases the molester will intentionally befriend the family in order to get access to the child. Child molesters are among us. They walk like us, dress like us and talk like us. It could be someone you know, or even someone you like and respect. It could be someone working in your household. Have you ever actually done a background check on your domestic staff before hiring them? I’m not saying this to scare you, but I do want you to open your eyes and your mind. And by the way, child molesters are not only men – women do it too. But there are a lot fewer of them than male molesters.
– If children would tell their parents of their molestation, there’d hardly be any child molesters in the world anymore. Most child molesters know how to keep a child quiet. They might use threats, bribes, blackmail or a combination of these. It’s not that difficult to keep a child silent about the abuse they’ve received. Ask the millions of adults today who suffered from molestation as children on how and why they didn’t tell anyone. Please please please don’t make the blind assumption that your child will tell you if someone does something to them. If so many raped adult women do not report their rape, why should we expect children to talk about it?
– Child molestation is quite common and experts say that anything from 10% to 20% of children get sexually abused. That means if you know 10 children, it’s quite possible that 1 or 2 of them have already been molested.
The Three Methods I Use
I actually talk to my kids about this topic fairly regularly. Just like reminding them to say please and thank you, or to brush their teeth, discussing it with them once is not enough. It’s got to be done on a regular basis.
I’ll be the first to admit it’s not easy to strike a balance between educating them and trying not to scare them. I’ve seen parents go too far in their efforts to protect their children, and their children end up living in fear of all adults. You have to strike a balance.
One way I use for starting the discussion is by talking about their bodies. I might say to my son or daughter something like “wow, show me those muscles on your arms! You’ve got a really strong body…”
Then you can go on from there. You can say something like “so, who does this body belong to?” pointing at their tummy. You might get an answer like “me!” or they might give you a completely unexpected answer, like “it belongs to you”, “god”, “everyone”, or “I don’t know”. Children are children.
From there you can confirm (or inform them) that their body belongs to them and only them. And that no one has the right to touch them if they don’t want to. This believe it or not, can be a real revelation to them. Children are brought up to listen to adults and respect and trust them. And we often tell our kids to do things with their bodies that they don’t want to do; “take a bath”, “go to the toilet before we go out”, “come here let me clean your ears”, etc.
So they might think that they always have to listen to adults, even if they don’t like what the adult is doing to them. So, like I said, tell them that no one has the right to touch their bodies in a way that they don’t like. And if anyone does, they should tell them to stop, and come and tell you right away.
As I talk I use phrases like “okay?”, or “do you understand?” to make sure this is sinking in. I then ask them what if someone touches you in a way that you don’t like, and they tell you not to tell mama and baba, do you listen to them? [No]. Do you let anyone play with your private parts? [No]. What if they say mama and baba will stop loving you if they find out, do you believe them? [No]. Is there anything in this world that can stop us from loving you? [No]. What about when we’re angry with you, does that mean we don’t love you? [No] You know we love you no matter what happens, no matter what you do, right? And on and on in this direction.
This type of discussion might lead them to ask questions, which you need to answer as best you can. The first time you have this conversation it might be a bit difficult and awkward for you, but in time you’ll get better at it.
This works better if you instigate a “No Secrets” policy in the house. The rule is that they cannot keep secrets from mama and baba, no matter what. They can keep secrets from their friends (imagine a life for a child without secrets!) but they cannot keep ANY secret from their parents.
The second method is reading books made for children. I like the book It’s My Body, by Lory Freeman. It’s quite old, from 1984 but the information it contains is timeless. You can sit and read this book with your child, and then discuss it together afterwards. There are literally dozens of books to choose from on this topic. You might consider getting a few of them and then rotate them with your kids every few months or so. I’m sorry I’m not aware of any Arabic books on the topic. If anyone could recommend some that would be great.
Telling stories. I tell my kids a story about once a week or so. It always has the same characters. It’s about a prince and princess who are exactly the same age as my kids. The kids have all kinds of adventures, ranging from rescuing mermaids, to fighting dragons to rescuing a planet inhabited by teddy bears (I have a very active imagination). Once in while the theme of the story will be about child safety methods. This way they don’t really know that I will discuss the topic with them. As far as they’re concerned, it’s just a story with their favourite characters.
The little royals, might for example, visit another prince who’s their friend in the nearby kingdom. When they see him he’s very sad. When they ask him why he tells them that he will tell them, but they have to swear to keep it a secret. He then tells them that his uncle touched him in a bad way and that he was feeling really bad about it. The princes then proceed to help the poor boy.
They tell him that his must tell his parents, regardless of what the uncle told him. And they acknowledge that it will be difficult for him to do that, but they insist that he must tell his parents. They also reassure him that his parents will react in a loving and supportive way, which they do. In the end the uncle is punished for his evil deed.
By disassociating the topic through a story, I can tell my kids that relatives can sometimes abuse children, without having to say it outright. Get my point?
There you have it, these are my three methods of discussing child molestation with my kids. Let me just add though, unfortunately, there are no guarantees. There’s no 100% fail safe method of keeping your child 100% safe. The way I see it, it’s a game of odds. If you don’t educate yourself and your child of the dangers of molestation, the chances are fairly good that your child can be molested. The odds are massively in the molesters favour. And I mean MASSIVELY. A child (or ignorant parent for that matter) is no match for a seasoned, determined pedophile.
However, if you arm yourself with knowledge and skills, then the odds tip in your favour. There’s still no guarantee, but at least the odds are greatly in your favour. See what I mean?
My fourth bonus method: the good karma method
This method does not actually involve my kids, but it’s something I hope will help keep them safe. I support children’s anti-child molestation causes. Specifically, I support the Be Free Anti-Child Neglect and Abuse Programme right here in Bahrain. I provide financial and consulting support to this amazing charity, hoping that God will reward me by protecting my children from any abuse. It might sound selfish but it’s not, it’s a win-win for all.
And if you’re based in Bahrain, I recommend you do the same, and support this great organisation. Even if you don’t have kids, providing greatly-needed financial support to this charity can help protect many children from abuse. Even if just one child is saved then it will have been worth it.
Well, that’s all for today. I hope you found this useful.
Thanks for taking the time to read this and talk to you soon.
PS If you haven’t seen it already, I suggest you also watch my video entitled why I stopped tickling my daughter.