It is estimated that one in five individuals under the age of 17 experiences some form of sexual abuse. This translates to a 20% prevalence, a staggering figure indicating the magnitude of this problem. Of these cases, approximately 80% are perpetrated by individuals close to the victim (family members, family friends, educators, classmates, etc.). Faced with this distressing reality, the need for prevention through education in child protection becomes imperative, both from a school and family perspective. In this article, we will focus on the essential role parents play in teaching protective behaviors to children at home, exploring specific actions to foster body awareness and establish healthy boundaries from an early age.
One of the key concepts to instill in children within the family setting is the understanding that their body belongs solely to them and they have the right to set boundaries. Parents should address this conversation with clarity, emphasizing that no one has permission to touch their private areas without explicit approval (for example, in the case of a doctor who needs to examine that part of the body).
Moreover, it is crucial to teach children the correct names for their private parts, removing the shame and taboo associated with these conversations and facilitating more open and effective communication. By providing children with clear and precise language, their ability to express any uncomfortable situation is strengthened. If it is entirely normal to share with kids that humans have a nose, stomach, or respiratory system, why is it so challenging to explain that we also have a penis or vagina?
It is also essential to explain to children specific preventive actions in potential uncomfortable situations so they can recognize and respond to unwanted physical contact. For instance, parents must emphasize the importance of saying "no" firmly if someone crosses inappropriate boundaries. Furthermore, it is fundamental to teach children to interpret their body warning signals that may indicate danger, threat, or discomfort so that they seek help immediately in such cases. Additionally, parents should establish rules about privacy and respect for others, fostering a safe environment where children feel empowered to express their boundaries without fear.
Equally important is recognizing changes in the behavior of children that may be related to potential abuse. Among the most common signs are recurring nightmares or avoidance of specific people or places. Parents must be attentive to both verbal and non-verbal communication from their children, providing a safe space where they feel comfortable sharing their experiences and concerns. In this regard, maintaining open communication without judgment is crucial for children to feel supported and understood.
Preventing and precisely knowing when a case of sexual abuse may occur is challenging, but we have the opportunity to empower children through education, providing them with the necessary strategies and tools to protect themselves from situations related to this social scourge.
Tips and advice to help keep your kids safe, at the website of NSPCC (National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children).
3 Steps Parents Can Take to Protect Kids From Sexual Abuse, article by Elizabeth L. Jeglic, Ph.D. at Psychology Today.
Preventing child sexual abuse, article by Kylie Rymanowicz, Christine Heverly, Jodi Schulz and Janelle Stewart at the Michigan State University website.