Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Preventing Child Sexual Abuse

 
 

None of us want to hear those words, "Someone touched me......." from their child. You try and protect your children from abuse. You want that one surefire way that will guarantee your child will be protected. You research neighborhoods when you move to make sure there aren't any child molesters close to your home. You spend lots of time getting to know other parents before you let your children play at their house without you. You teach them about appropriate and inappropriate touches. You do everything you can to make sure they are safe from sexual abuse.
 
My aim is not to downplay the importance of all these things you do to prevent child sexual abuse from happening to your child. My aim will be to inform you about other ways to help your child feel safe and in control of their body.
 
First, child sexual abuse is very difficult to prevent because the offender is usually someone very close to the child. It could be an aunt, uncle, grandparent, close family friend, father, mother, cousin, and so on, more often than the registered sex offender living down the street. The registered sex offender living down the street was probably convicted because of crimes committed with a child or children he or she knew very closely (probably related). Because of this, it is incredibly difficult to prevent sexual abuse. The child is usually around the offender often. They usually love the offender and don't want to get them in trouble. Another reason child sexual abuse is very difficult to prevent is because adults are older. This means they are stronger, more experienced at negotiation. They can persuade, manipulate, and instill fear in children easily. No matter what you teach your child, you can't force them to think like an adult to combat the reasoning skills of an adult.
 
As always, everything you do with your child should be considered with prayer. As you pray for your child, you can pray that your eyes will be opened to know how to best protect them. Then, you let Heavenly Father take the lead. If something happens, you will have made your best effort and you know that Heavenly Father can't always take away another person's agency. I'll give you some pointers on how to not necessarily prevent child sexual abuse, but prevent your child from becoming a victim. This means that your child will feel in control of their body and if they become a victim of child sexual abuse, it does not make them feel like a victim for the rest of their lives.  
 
1. Let's refer to the inappropriate/appropriate touch post. Teach your child that it's okay to say no to any touch they are uncomfortable. Let them know that if it happens, they can come to you for help. Then, you be their advocate. Be a second voice when the other person isn't listening to theirs. They will know that it's okay to talk to you about touches that make them uncomfortable because you've listened in the past when they've come to you. If you listen when they tell you they don't like being tickled, or playing "This Little Piggy," or getting cheeks pinched, they know you'll listen when they tell you something bigger, like someone touched them in an inappropriate way.
 
2. Spend time with your child. Children are more likely to be sexually abused if they are craving adult attention. They look for adults that will spend time with them. Offenders are very good at spending time with children who need attention.
 
3. Teach your children about safe lies and harmful lies. A safe lie is not telling about a birthday present so it will be a surprise. A harmful lie is if someone tells you never to tell anyone else something that happened or something someone said. Safe lies are usually not really lies, but withholding information until a certain time. Teach your child that if someone wants them to lie, even someone they know well, they should still tell you so you can help protect them.
 
4. "Stranger Danger" is overstated. Most sexual abuse happens with a family member, not a stranger. Most rapes occur with someone the person knows. I teach my children that if anyone they don't know asks if they want to see an animal, like a dog or cat, or wants to give them some candy or toys, they should tell them, "Wait, let me get my mom or dad." Then, they run to find one of us without going to the person first. First, they find us. This prevents them from being overly scared of strangers. Some strangers are actually great people, in fact most are very nice. Don't let your child's vision be colored by the few strangers that might want to hurt them. Teach them to be smart about how to handle people they don't know.
 
If your child comes to you and tells you that someone touched them, it's incredibly important that you don't treat them as "broken." This is something that happened to them, but it does not define who they are. They are still a child of God. They are still innocent. They are still pure and clean. And, believe them. Don't tell them, "That must not have happened" because you know the person well and you can't imagine that person doing something like this to your child.
 
The NUMBER ONE THING YOU CAN DO TO HELP YOUR CHILD IS TO TEACH THEM YOU WILL LISTEN IF SOMETHING HAPPENS TO THEM. Because child abuse is so difficult to prevent, the BEST thing you can do is teach them to REPORT it when it happens. Then, it will probably be a very short-term incident in their lives, rather than a long-term occurrence. They will be less likely to feel like a victim and act like a victim. They will be in control and feel safe in knowing that you are there for them when they need you.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Appropriate Touch


To begin our dicsussion of appropriate touch I want to illustrate an example of something that happens in many homes. Every time I teach a class, I find it interesting that almost every parent has this happen in their own home. There is no malice behind what I will describe. Usually, it's done in fun and for the enjoyment of the parties involved.

My brother and I were very close growing up. We rarely fought. He loved to play with me. I adored him (and still do). When we had some physical fun, it was usually tickling. I didn't mind being tickled; in fact, I liked it. But there were moments where he tickled with fingers that were a bit too rough. Or, he didn't stop when I said, "Stop!" I was laughing. I was ticklish. Tickling meant I laughed, so I must have been having fun. Usually I was, but there always came a point where I was DONE. I needed to breathe and his fingers were getting too rough in their pressure. My wonderful dad was also this way (again, this is usually done in fun and there is no permanent harm).

Now, as parents, often we tickle our children because it's fun and they laugh. We love their giggles. They like it. BUT, what are we teaching them when they say stop and we don't stop? When do we finally stop? When they plead.

WHAT ARE YOU TEACHING THEM?

1. You are teaching them that stop does not mean anything. Adults apparently know more than children, so saying stop is futile.
2. You are teaching them that you do not listen when they are requesting them to stop.
3. You are teaching them that you know more about their body and their body's needs than they do. They can't trust their own knowledge of their body.
4. You are teaching them that they are powerless to stop someone's physical affections that they do not like.

If you only look at the bolded words, what are you teaching your child? There is nothing there that I want my children to feel.

Let's translate this into appropriate touch and inappropriate touch. When you teach your child about someone touching them in inappropriate places, you tell them to request that the person, "Stop!" However, if you never stop when they request it, how much faith do they put in themselves to be able to stop someone else from touching them when they don't like it (especially when most people touching a child inappropriately are those that the child knows well and trusts)?

This doesn't mean that you should never tickle your child. Our daughter loves to be tickled, so we tickle her until she says stop. I stop and wait. After she's taken a break to catch her breath, she says, "Again!" Our oldest son despises being tickled. So, I finally asked him one day a way I could touch him that he likes. He told me he wanted me to run my fingers through his hair. I do that for him and tickle my daughter and younger son. Our children know they have control over their bodies. They also know I'm their advocate when other adults are around. Grandpas love to tickle, too. When our son lets his grandparents know he doesn't like to be tickled and they try it anyway, I gently remind them about what he said. I say, "He said he didn't want to be tickled. How about you read a book instead." He knows that I'm there for him, to protect him and help him have control over his body when he's not physically as strong as someone playing with him. He also knows he can tell me if someone touched him in a way he didn't like and I'll listen (even if it's not sexual, inappropriate touch). He expects to be listened to and lets me know when someone didn't listen to him. If your child doesn't like having their cheeks pinched, or playing "This Little Piggy," make sure you let them have a voice. We'll discuss this a little more when I talk about preventing child sexual abuse.

A word about good touch/bad touch:
I personally like to use inappropriate and appropriate touch. I have found, as I've worked with many children, that children have a very difficult time separating a good or bad behavior or touch from good or bad as a person. Children often think they are bad if they are being touched in a "bad touch" place. They also often feel like that area is bad as well. However, genitals are VERY GOOD places and we want them to be associated with more positive words. Also, being touched in your genitals often feels GOOD. Why, then, is the touch labeled "bad?" At our house, we connect inappropriate touch with modesty. We teach that we're modest with certain areas of our bodies because they are so very special and will help create children one day. It's not appropriate for others to touch them right now to keep them special.

(You can also use "okay" and "not okay" touch. I am just very opposed to good touch/bad touch.)

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Don't Drink and Drive


I was about 7 years old, driving down the freeway with my whole family. There was a billboard advertisement: "Don't Drink and Drive!" My father was drinking a bottle of water while he was driving. I was horrified that my father was not obeying the law! "Dad!" I said. "You aren't supposed to drink and drive!" He and my mother chuckled a little, but didn't say anything. I spent the whole drive fuming and trying to figure out why they laughed. It wasn't funny to disobey the law.

As an adult, I now understand that the comment I made was funny to my parents because I did not understand the billboard the way they did. Children do not understand things in an adult way. We see a picture of a half naked man in a bathtub and think, "This could be pornographic," or "That's inappropriate to look at people in the bathtub. It's private!" A young child having a parent read this book may be thinking, "Wow, that guy in the bathtub gets to have TONS of fun. I want a snack in the bathtub, too! I want mermaids and fish!" It's normal to be naked in a bathtub for a child. As long as no private parts are shown or seductive poses, partial nudity does not affect children the way it affects adults.

Now, there does need to be a line drawn where a parent feels a book or other "child" activity (art, literature, or otherwise) has a picture or context where things are crossing a line. Ask yourself:
1. How is my child possibly viewing this?
2. Does my child understand what is happening?
3. Could my child understand what is happening and are old enough to know about it? If not, then it is probably inappropriate.
4. Seductive poses and private parts are generally not appropriate (anatomy or medical textbooks to explain certain things would be fine showing private parts).

I'll give a sexual example of children not understanding things in an adult way. My friend was in the shower with her mother. She was about four years old. She was facing the same direction as her mother. She turned around and was then facing her mother's crotch (which is directly in a four-year-olds line of sight). She didn't say or do anything, but her mother quickly turned her around and said, "Don't look at that, you pervert" (obviously in a shocked and andry tone). From a child's point-of-view, she was just taking a shower. Her mother, thinking as an adult, was reacting as if an adult was staring at her in an inappropriate way. My friend remembers feeling confused and hurt. She couldn't figure out what she had done wrong.

So, when you have a situation concerning sexuality, try to think like a child because they don't understand things the way you do. A naked body next to another naked body does not equal sex to a child, but it might for an adult. You can even ask them what they are thinking, so you can get an idea of how to see through your child's eyes.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Playing Doctor


Our oldest son was five years old. He was playing with his friend (3 year old girl), and his little sister (2 years old) upstairs in his friend's room. I was downstairs talking with the little girl's mom. The kids got a bit too quiet, so I went up to check on them.

Picture this scene: My little 2 -year-old daughter is on the floor, naked, in a V-sit. Her older brother and 3-year-old friend are "checking" her out in her genital region. They were playing doctor.

How would you respond????

First, I asked myself a few questions:
1. How old are the children? They were all within three years of age, so that wasn't a concern. If children playing doctor are more than three years apart, it can be considered molestation.

2. What were they actually doing? They were looking and talking, not inserting anything into her vagina or other parts.

3. How were the children feeling? They were all smiling and happy with the game.

4. What other information do I know about this situation? Well, I knew that the little three-year-old girl had been to numerous doctors, always checking her genitals because she had frequent urinary tract infections. In fact, she was getting close to surgery because the doctors weren't sure why she had so many infections (that tells you how often she was getting checked out in her genitals).

Second, CALMLY I told the children that it was time to put their clothes on and come downstairs. I had to help my daughter, as she was still working on dressing herself. I didn't discuss what had happened while they were getting dressed. I was using the time to collect my thoughts and stay calm and positive.

Third, once they were all dressed, I asked more questions.
What game were you playing? (Going to the doctor)
Did everyone have fun? (Yes)

Then, I explained to my children that our bodies are temples (we'd had this discussion, but children need reminders). Did they remember what that meant? It means that we have a spirit and a body. Heavenly Father gave us a body as a house for our spirit. The temple is Christ's house, just like our body is our house for our spirit. We treat it with respect by wearing clothes to cover our special body parts and playing with our clothes on. It's okay to play doctor and other games like that, but we do it with our clothes on.

Who can see our body naked? Doctors, caregivers, and others who help take care of our bodies until we can do it ourselves. They check to make sure we're healthy.

Last, let that child play with the other child again (if possible, unless the other parent will not allow it). If you don't let them play together again, the children will associate the incident with not being able to play with their friend and not associate it with learning respect for bodies. It may also make them feel ashamed, which is a feeling we want them to avoid associating with sexuality.

Note 1: It is absolutely age appropriate for children to go through this phase. It is not harmful, generally. It's actually a wonderful teaching opportunity. Red flags to look for are children more than three years apart and any unhappiness from the children playing. If they felt forced into playing or they became uncomfortable at some point, the play then turned into something that may require more attention.

Note 2: STAYING CALM IS ESSENTIAL!!!!!! Imagine you are having an argument with your spouse or a loved one. One of you starts yelling. What happens? The other one starts to yell. Then, the first person yells louder to be heard.......and so on. What listening is occuring? NONE. Ten years from the incident, the partners may not remember what the argument was about, but they will likely remember the feelings they felt during the argument. Your child will remember your reaction more than anything else from an incident with playing doctor. What do you want them to learn????? You are either teaching them that there is something mysterious and dangerous about their genitals that leads to yelling and unhappy feelings, or you are teaching them that bodies are beautiful, wonderful, and sacred, and there are things we do to respect them and keep them sacred.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Teachable Moment: Homosexuality

Before we begin this little teachable moment, I want to emphasize the church's stand on homosexuality. This quote is taken directly from the church's website www.mormonsandgays.org:

"The experience of same-sex attraction is a complex reality for many people. The attraction itself is not a sin, but acting on it is. Even though individuals do not choose to have such attractions, they do choose how to respond to them. With love and understanding, the Church reaches out to all God’s children, including our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters."

So, gays are also children of God and require a kind word and attitude when we have moments with our children that require attention to same-sex attraction.

I was sitting at the table with our sweet daughter eating lunch. Here is our conversation:
A: When I grow up, I want to marry a boy, not a girl!
M: (First, I have to say I was surprised she even came up with this because I have no idea where she got the idea she might marry a girl). That's a good goal. Why do you want to marry a boy?
A: Because I'm supposed to marry a boy.
M: Well, Heavenly Father did make it so that to have babies, you need a dad and a mom. Part of His plan is for us to have a family.
A: I want a family with three babies.
M: That's another good goal.

Note: I did NOT say anything negative about homosexuality. I did not tell her she should never marry a girl. I reiterated God's plan for her, but did not say anything that would put down homosexuals. This attitude will hopefully allow her to grow up knowing the Plan of Salvation, but also having kindness for those who may not be able to follow that plan. Also, if she ever has homosexual feelings, she knows that I will listen to her and be open to hearing how she is feeling. If you put down homosexuals or have a negative attitude toward them, your children will be afraid to come to you with this problem if they experience it. You NEED them to be able to come to you so you can be a good support system as they struggle with a unique temptation.

This is a way of looking at homosexuality that may put it into perspective:
What is your favorite sin (the one that's so hard to get rid of)? It could be judging, gossiping, cheating, lying etc..... We'll choose an easy one for this example - cheating.
Now, when you are tempted to cheat, are you a sinner? NO! You pray and gain strength from Heavenly Father to be able to withstand the temptation. When you ACTUALLY cheat, you are a sinner.
When a homosexual is tempted with same-sex attraction, are they a sinner? NO! They need lots of support and love to help them withstand the temptation.

Now, imagine your sexual attraction and desires. They are pretty strong, right? If you are married, and most of you reading this are, imagine NEVER being able to act on those desires. The sins of homosexuality and fornication are pretty much the same (check True to the Faith - if you look up homosexuality, it refers you to chastity. If you look up fornication, it refers you to chastity). I have a lot of empathy for those who have these strong sexual desires and are never able to share that experience, like homosexuals and single individuals. If they have sinned, can you possibly see why? You are able to have sexual release.They aren't. Treat them as a child of God, in your language and attitude. Expect that your child will follow God's plan, but don't ever tell them they should never be homosexual - "not in MY house." They need to know that you are there for them, no matter what their trial and temptation in this life.