One can't help but see news coverage these days about yet another priest, minister, teacher or other authority figure who is involved in child sexual abuse. And continuing allegations about some celebrities (notably Michael Jackson) cause all of us concern. While clearly, these abusers are in the very small minority in their professions, each case has resulted in pain, betrayal, heartache and psychological or physical damage to the victims and their families.
I suspect the father of every victim must wonder what they might have done differently to help protect their children from these horrific experiences. While each case is certainly unique, and the relationship with the perpetrator different, there are some common threads. Following the principles and practices here will certainly not guarantee that a child will not be molested, but they will at least help prepare a child to know when inappropriate things are happening and what to do about it.
"Don't Talk to Strangers" Isn't Enough. For many years, parents have taught their children to avoid strangers. Popular children's videos like "Too Smart for Strangers" have helped reinforce the message. While this is important advice, the truth is that most sexual abusers are already acquainted with their victims. They may be relatives, youth leaders, clergy, teachers, the parent of a friend, etc. Don't ignore the stranger risk–just don't rely on it as the best protection strategy.
Don't make them kiss Uncle Frank. Many of us can remember the uncomfortable instructions we received from our parents to "give Uncle ___ or Aunt ___ a big hug and kiss." Despite the fact that we think we may know this uncle or aunt, sometimes relatives are the secret abusers. Don't force or shame them into affection; let children express affection on their own terms.
Help them know the basics of sex. Certainly the "birds and the bees" discussions are uncomfortable for some dads. There are lots of reasons for that, but children who know the basics are better prepared to deal with sexual issues. Help them understand that no one should touch the "private" parts of their body. We have used the "swimsuit" analogy with our kids: if someone wants to touch you in a place on your body covered by your swimming suit, you have the right and responsibility to say no.
Keep the lines open. Kids need to feel that they can talk to you about anything that is troubling or concerning them. Working to develop strong communication skills with your children in other areas will help them feel comfortable in a very confusing situation for them. Encourage them to ask questions and talk about their experiences in all areas of their lives. Make sure they know that they should report any incident of sexual contact to you immediately, and that they will be respected and loved under any circumstance.
Help them know the law. Teach your children that any kind of sexual advance from and adult is wrong and against the law. This will help them have the confidence to assert themselves against any adult who attempts to abuse them.