Prevention education is extremely important for children and teens today, as they face new and varied dangers more than ever before. Yet for a variety of reasons, many adults think discussing topics such as abuse, sexual abuse, online dangers, sexting, and pornography is inappropriate for children and teens. Some think that children and teens don’t know what the concepts mean, and that having these conversations will expose them prematurely to material that might cause them emotional distress. However, research tells us this is not the case. Education does not take away a child’s innocence, experiences do.
If adults are responsible for keeping kids safe, why do we need to talk to kids? Because the child is the predator’s target and we can’t be with our kids 24/7. In other words, we can do the best we can to protect them, but if we don’t prepare them to protect themselves, they are more easily victimized. We need to educate and empower our children to help us keep them safe.
But HOW do we talk to them? What do we talk to them about? And when do we talk to them?
There is no magic formula. The key is to be available and to get over our own uncomfortable feelings about the topics we need to discuss. Topics are many and varied – from basic body part names for very young children to the safe use of social media for older tweens and teens. Sometimes as parents we get so busy that when our kids come to us, we may inadvertently make them feel they are unimportant and that we are too busy. Our goal should be to let them know we are always available to talk about anything. When kids know we are available, they are more likely to come to us with their questions and concerns, including questions about the more sensitive, scary, or uncomfortable topics.
Many adults are uncomfortable talking to children about sensitive topics such as sex, sexual abuse, exploitation, and pornography. While we understand these discussions may be uncomfortable, if we don’t educate children with accurate and honest information, someone else will, and it may not be in the way we would want.
Studies reveal children know more than we think they do and at younger ages than we assume. A Symantec study revealed that the fourth most frequently searched term on the Internet for children 7 and under was “porn.” Kids hear things and it’s natural to be curious. Offenders look for children who lack knowledge as it is easier to groom and manipulate them. If we educate our children, the knowledge they gain will help minimize their risk.
We must never think it won’t happen to our child. Every child – even the best, most innocent, and well-protected child – needs to be educated with safety information in order to protect themselves.
How to Start the Conversation
If you find yourself feeling uncomfortable thinking about having these discussions with your child, MBF is here to help. We have a great resource, “Discussing Sensitive Topics,” to help parents and guardians who may be struggling to have these important conversations with their children. This resource will help you understand the true risks and also help you better prepare to have these important (and sometimes uncomfortable) conversations with children.
Keys to Successful Communication
» Become familiar and comfortable by researching a topic, such as sexual abuse, digital abuse/safety, cyberbullying, or sexting, before talking with your child/teen. Becoming informed and comfortable about a topic prior to discussing it is the key to having a productive conversation and not distressing your child/teen. Our website and app have downloadable Safety Briefs and free online trainings for parents on these topics and more; we also provide resources for you to find additional help.
» Ensure your conversations are developmentally appropriate for your child’s age. If you need help understanding their developmental level, see the Safety Brief: Child Development.
» Allow children/teens the opportunity to talk and to ask questions before you start talking. Often, they know more than parents think, or they have incorrect information that you can correct once you begin the conversation.
» Have ongoing conversations rather than one “big talk.” If your child/teen is asking about an issue, answer them honestly and provide safety knowledge to educate and satisfy their request, but avoid giving too much information, or information that is too developmentally advanced.
» Reinforce your child’s use of the MBF 5 Safety Rules© to respond to unsafe situations. Learn more by visiting the MBF 5 Safety Rules Resource Page.
Talking to Your Child About Concerns:
If you suspect that something has happened to your child, such as abuse or bullying, do not be afraid to ask them specific questions.
» Start by asking your child if they have noticed any Red Flags anywhere in their community or with anyone they are frequently around.
» You can also ask them if someone has ever made them feel uncomfortable or unsafe.
» If your child begins to express concerns, listen carefully and ask open-ended questions such as, “what happened next,” or “tell me more” to keep the child talking.
» Do not ask specific or leading questions such as, “did someone touch your private parts?”
» Be sure you don’t inadvertently cause your child to feel guilty by asking questions such as, “Why didn’t you run away?” or “Why didn’t you tell me sooner?”
» If it seems your child does not want to talk about it, respect that and don’t push.
» If you have concerns, or if your child discloses abuse or victimization to you, report your concerns to your state child abuse reporting hotline. Contact information can be found at www.childwelfare.gov/organizations.
As a parent, your main concern is to protect your child/teen. The best way to do that is to stay active and involved in their life to assess any risks they may be facing and to educate and empower them to protect themselves. MBF is here to help you look forward to important and potentially life-saving conversations with your child. By doing so, you will be empowering them with knowledge that will better protect them from victimization for years to come!