Tuesday, May 13, 2014

How Do I Speak with My Child About Sexual Abuse?

By Francesco Cesareo, Ph.D
Chair, National Review Board 

As parents sometimes, we find talking to our children about sexual topics to be difficult. However, children need to be protected from becoming victims of child sexual abuse. Surveys establish that fewer than 30% of parents discuss sexual abuse with their children. Parents should welcome the opportunity to educate their children against the dangers of child sexual abuse and embrace their responsibility to teach them how to be safe from sexual predators.

When do you say it?

Proper terminology for body parts should be used from the beginning of a child-parent relationship. As a child grows and begins to gain more language, a child should be taught that certain body parts are “private” and not to be touched by anyone besides care takers or medical doctors. The acceptable reasons for touching should be explained in an age appropriate manner.

What do you say?

1. Open Communication. Always let your children know they can discuss anything with you, especially topics about the private parts and private things. Let them know that “other” adults should not be asking them to keep secrets from their parents.

2. Rules. Teach children which parts of the body should not be touched. Tell your children it is against the rules for adults to act in any way sexual with them. Use age appropriate examples.

3. Privacy. Teach children to always be safe—at and away from home and on the Internet. Teach them not to give out personal contact information while talking to strangers, talking on the phone or using the Internet. A person they have chatted with on the Internet but never met is NOT their friend.

4. Boundaries. Teach children about grooming behaviors of sexual predators. Discuss the difference between friendly hugs and handshakes and that people should not purposely rub up against their body, touch their private parts, tickle too much, or always ask to play wrestling games. Warn that uncomfortable touches from strangers or even older cousins, uncles, or others should be reported to the parents.

5. Listening to their conscience. Teach children to trust their inner voice. If a touch doesn’t feel right or a comment is too personal, tell your child they have the right to get out of the situation. Let them know they can call you or another trusted adult at any time for help.

6. Be strong. We spend a great deal of time telling our children to obey their teachers, priest, or babysitter. You must also teach them it is ok to say no to an adult who asks them to do, watch or show them something they are uncomfortable with or know to be wrong. Give your child a strategy to be safe. The words NO – GO – TELL from one of the child safety programs are easy to remember. Say NO, Leave the situation – GO, and TELL someone what happened. Provide examples of showing immodest pictures, naughty words, offering alcohol, or go off to a private place.

7. Always Update: Talk to your children regularly about what is going on in their lives, who they are with, and what they do together.

Actions speak louder than words: Be involved in your child’s activities. Know who is in charge and who is around. Know the other adults and teens who are active in the same building. Make sure the organization practices safe environment procedures.

Francesco Cesareo, Ph.D


Francesco Cesareo, Ph.D., is president of Assumption College, Worcester, Massachusetts. He is in his first year as Chairman of the National Review Board, a lay body that collaborates with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to prevent sexual abuse of minors by persons in the service of the Church.

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