It may be a hot topic right now, but sexual assault is something parents should be talking about with their daughters all the time. Kelly Chrestman, Ph.D., a senior military behavioral health psychologist at the Center for Deployment Psychology, explained that teaching girls about sexual safety should be thought of as being as necessary as teaching them about other types of safety, like burn prevention.
As a mom of three young daughters, I’ll admit that I assumed (or hoped) it was OK for a family discussion about sexual assault to sit on a back burner for the next few years. But according to Chrestman, it’s important to “talk to kids as early as possible in an age-appropriate way.” She told POPSUGAR that if you broach the topic now, it won’t be as uncomfortable for girls or their parents to discuss sexual assault when they’re older. Of course, awkwardness comes with the territory when you talk about anything of a sexual nature with your child. You don’t want to avoid this very important issue, so no one feels weird. “If you feel uncomfortable, you are doing it right,” Chrestman assured parents.
Tips for sexual safety
• Talk about boundaries early
From an early age, it’s important to explain to girls that their private parts are just that: private, and not for others to touch. Chrestman advised differentiating between private and shameful, however. “You don’t want them to feel embarrassed.” Young girls can also understand saying “no” to unwanted physical contact. Explain that they don’t have to hug anyone, even Grandma. They should also ask before touching a playmate and respect “no.”
• Model appropriate touching
“Adults can coerce kids, so they need models of what appropriate touching looks like,” Chrestman said. Parents can do this by showing their daughters what on their bodies is OK to touch. Kids are going to be curious, so explain, “Within this outline is mine.” A trusted doctor can also model appropriate touching.
• Persist even if your daughter resists the topic
Your daughter may feel uncomfortable talking about sexual assault with you. That’s OK. “Drop it for now, and bring it up later,” Chrestman said. Kids have questions about sex, so remember, if your daughter isn’t talking about this with you, she is talking about it with someone else.
• Use current events and kids’ content as conversation starters
If you’re watching the news with your daughter and sexual assault is being discussed, ask, “What do you think of that?” Or, “What would you do in that situation?” Chrestman further advised parents not to be dismissive of song lyrics or video games that address sexual assault: “Use them as a teaching experience.” Ask, “Interesting song you are listening to; what is he or she saying there?”
• Emphasise socializing safely
“It’s really easy to blame kids,” Chrestman said. Instead of questioning where your daughter went, or with whom, ask, “Is this a safe situation to be in?” Always talk about the safety aspect when she is making plans with friends.
• Discuss an exit strategy
It’s better to have some plan than no plan. Discuss various scenarios with your daughter and what her exit strategy could be. Remind her you will help her if she finds herself in a bad situation.
• Share your story
It’s OK to share a story of something that happened to you, in an age-appropriate way. You might tell a young child, “Someone tried to hurt me once, and this is how I got out of it.” You can also try this approach when sharing your experience: “This is what happened to me, and I don’t want this to happen to you.” Chrestman reminded parents that since we never want to blame or shame a child, “Make sure you aren’t blaming or shaming yourself either when sharing your story.”
• Teach your daughter to trust her gut
“Predatory behavior starts small,” Chrestman said. If someone seems creepy or just gives your daughter a weird vibe, it’s good for her to trust that gut feeling and get away from that person.
• Teach her the power of “No”
This one is simple. Teach your daughter from a young age how to say “no” loudly and repeatedly.
• Praise your daughter for sharing
“If kids confide in you, treat it like gold,” Chrestman said. Never minimize their experiences. Say things like, “I’m so grateful you shared that with me.” Or, “Thank you for telling me that.” You want your daughter to feel comfortable coming to you and to encourage her to keep doing so.
•Don’t be afraid to ask her if something happened
You notice moodiness or a change in other behavior, grades, or friends. This could mean something is going on. “If you suspect abuse, be direct. Ask if someone hurt them,” Chrestman advised. Try questions such as, “Did somebody do something to make you feel bad?” Or, “Has something happened?”
“Don’t blame them and let them know you love them and you will protect them from further harm,” she urged, adding that a great online resource for parents and kids to learn about, prevent, and deal with sexual abuse is RAINN. RAINN means Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, an international based largest anti-sexual violence organization. According to RAINN, “every 9 minutes, that victim is a child. Meanwhile, only 5 out of every 1,000 perpetrators will end up in prison.”