This is no myth: Being a parent is hard.
We live in a world of 24-hour news channels and the Internet, both chock-full of scary stories about children, violence, sexual abuse and scandal. No wonder we are wracked with fear.
But did you know that by educating and empowering yourself and your children, you can give your children a “virtual bubble wrap” that will aid them in making good decisions and make them “hard targets” for predators? It’s not rocket science—it’s just brave common sense.
With back-to-school independence comes a challenge. No one wants their child to fear bullying and child sexual abuse when they should be focusing on history and math. But anytime your child is out in the world, he or she can encounter people and situations that are scary.
If you armor and prepare your child with real tools, self-esteem, and decision-making skills, your child will do much more than have fun. Your child will blossom and grow this school year.
The best place to build confidence to grow is to start dispelling some of the myths that child sex predators want to you to believe. Your child’s biggest defense is knowledge.
Here are ten things you can do to help your child have a safer school year:
Myth #1: Knowing about “stranger danger” will save my child.
Teaching stranger danger is important, but strangers account for less than than one-tenth of child sexual abuse. The other 90% of child sexual abusers are people that a child already knows and loves. That’s why experts encourage parents to start early: teach your children good communication skills, strong body boundaries, and the importance of reporting crimes and suspicious behavior.
Myth #2: Women don’t abuse kids.
Yes, women do sexually abuse kids. While women are far less likely to abuse than men, law enforcement has stepped up and is prosecuting more women who target children. As a result, more female predators are spending time behind bars.
Our society has also been much better at fighting harmful stereotypes that say women should “break in” young boys or that male victims of sexual abuse by women enjoy the abuse.
Myth #3: Children can’t sexually abuse other kids.
The J has opened the public’s eyes to the harm that predatory children can cause. Bullying experts are also educating parents about how bullying can escalate into child-on-child sexual abuse. The best way to help your children is to ensure that your school follows strong anti-bullying policies and that you talk to your children openly about the problem.
Myth #4: It’s okay to make young children hug and kids adults, even if they don’t really like it.
When we force a toddler to hug or kiss someone when he does not want to (even if it’s Grandma), we are telling the child that he is not in control over who touches his body. We are also telling the child that he should not say no an adult who may want to touch him in sexual ways.
Don’t worry about hurting Grandma’s feelings. Instead, teach your young children to shake hands, make eye contact, and say hello. That way, they learn respect—not only for Grandma, but also for their own bodies. And if you’re honest with Grandma, she’ll understand.
Myth #5: It’s embarrassing to hear children say words like “vagina.” It’s fine if they don’t learn the real names of their genitalia until they are older.
Yes, it can be embarrassing hear words like “penis” and “vagina” from a child. But children believe that only silly things are called by silly names. By using the proper names for body parts, you are telling your child that their genitals are important, should be respected, and are not silly or shameful.
Proper name usage will also discourage predators who want to blur sexual boundaries by minimizing the important of a child’s genitals.
And if—heaven forbid—something does happen to your child, he or she will be able to properly explain what happened by using correct language that law enforcement and prosecutors can use to punish predators.
Myth #6: Children lie about abuse to get attention.
If a child comes to you to report seen, experienced, or suspected abuse, immediately call 911 or your local social services hotline. It’s not your job to investigate abuse or establish the credibility of victims or witnesses.
It’s very hard for a child to come forward. Don’t make it worse by doubting him or her.
Myth #7: I checked the sex abuse registry, so my kid is safe.
According to Darkness to Light, less than one-tenth of victims ever report to the police. Even if a child sex predator is prosecuted, there is no guarantee that the predator will show up on your local registry. Check out the registry, but take the next step and empower yourself and your children against all predators.
Myth #8: I don’t need to monitor my child’s phone/tablet/computer/Xbox. I trust him/her.
Monitoring your child’s Internet-enabled devices is not a matter of trust. It’s a matter of safety. Predators are cunning and use all kinds of manipulation to earn entrance into your child’s world. Keeping an eye on texts, chats, photos, email and social media is the best way to make sure that a predator is not targeting your child. It’s also a great way for you to make sure that your child is not a target or aggressor in cyber-bullying.
Myth #9: Children don’t need to know about sexual abuse.
Victims of child sexual abuse will usually disclose their abuse to their closest friends: other children. You do not need to go into explicit detail with your child about sex or abuse. But you do need to tell your children that if a friend comes to them and talks about abuse, they should come to you—the parent—immediately.
Myth #10: The justice system will be more traumatizing to my child than the actual abuse.
Law enforcement wants two things: to put predators behind bars and to protect young victims of abuse. That’s why there are special programs across the country where police, prosecutors, and social workers come together to create safe, child-friendly victim interview procedures. The interviews, which are recorded so that the child is only interviewed once, are conducted by specially trained forensic specialists who understand children and who create a natural environment where children can speak safely.
Social workers also closely engage with the victim and non-offending family members to make sure that the victim and the entire family gets therapy, services, and continuing care.
A former journalist, educator, and public relations professional, Joelle Casteix has taken her own experience as a victim of child sex crimes and devoted her career to exposing abuse, advocating on behalf of survivors, and spreading abuse prevention strategies for parents and communities. She has presented to hundreds of audiences all over the world, including on the TEDx stage, on subjects such as abuse prevention, victim outreach, victims’ rights in the civil justice system, and parenting safer children. She is a regular speaker for the National Center for Victims of Crime, the Institute on Violence, Abuse and Trauma and The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.