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by Amy Longchamps, LMSW
Crisis Counselor
Faces of Hope Foundation

With the school year nearing, the crisis counselors at Faces of Hope want to remind families of an essential school supply no child should be without. Aside from paper, pencils, and backpacks, your child also needs another supply for a safe school year: an understanding of body safety and boundaries.

According to the CDC, approximately 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 13 boys experience sexual abuse in the United States each year. In 91% of these cases, the perpetrator is known and trusted by the family. Although it is terrifying to think that anyone would sexually abuse a child, it is vital that we empower children with information to assist them in recognizing unsafe situations and give them the tools they need to respond and seek help.

You may be asking yourself “How do I keep my child safe, and what body safety skills should we implement?” Body safety starts with the language you use in your home. As parents, it is important to use anatomically correct language when talking about genitals. Cutesy names can cause confusion when a child reports abuse to a trusted adult. Some families use common words, such as dessert foods or abbreviations, to talk about genitals. Without knowing what name a family uses to talk about genitals, safe adults are unable to recognize that children are reporting sexual abuse. Additionally, making up names for body parts gives children the impression that they are bad or should not be talked about. Using anatomically correct language removes the shame and embarrassment from these conversations, which establishes a basis for open and honest conversations in the future.

Explaining what an “okay” or “safe” touch is versus what a “not okay” or “unsafe” touch is, is helpful in teaching your child boundaries. It is important to explain that if they ever feel uncomfortable, scared, or confused with a touch they should always tell a trusted adult. Inappropriate touching, especially by a trusted adult, is very confusing for a child. It is our job to reassure them that the safe adults in their life will listen, hear, and believe them when disclosures are made.

Sometimes sexual abuse will not include any physical contact. This does not make it any less scary or serious. Perpetrators may show a child a pornographic image or make suggestions about sexual acts. This is sexual abuse. It is important that our children know that everyone’s genitals are private and should stay private. If someone breaks this privacy by showing them pornographic images or making lewd comments, it is important children know they should report this to a trusted adult.

With older children and teens, it is important to educate them about media influence and peer pressure. If they see, hear, or experience something from a peer or on social media that causes confusion or makes them feel uncomfortable, reassure them that they can talk to you or another trusted adult.

Most importantly, teaching our children, of all ages, that it is acceptable to tell an adult no whenever they feel uncomfortable, confused, or scared with any touch they receive, image they are shown, and/or comment they hear, can help keep them safe.

Dr. Shalon Nienow with the American Academy of Pediatrics states that “children and teens who feel in control of their bodies are less likely to fall prey to sexual abusers. And if they do suffer abuse, they are more likely to tell a trusted adult, which can make all the difference in stopping the events and subsequently helping them recover from this painful experience.”

If you need assistance on how to start conversations about body safety and boundaries with your child, Faces of Hope recommends the following reading materials:

My Body is Special and Private by Adrianne Simeone

My Body Belongs to Me by Jill Starishevsky

I said NO! by Kimberly King by Zach Kin, and Sue Rama

No Means NO! by Jayneen Sanders

My Body! What I say Goes! by Jayneen Sanders

Let’s Talk About Body Boundaries, Consent & Respect by Jayneen Sanders

What Does Consent Really Mean? by Pete Wallis and Thalia Wallis

#MeToo and You: Everything You Need to Know About Consent, Boundaries, and More by Halley Bondy