Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Let's Talk About "Talking to Kids"

Everywhere you turn it’s in the news nowadays… the sexual abuse and exploitation of children. On one hand it’s good – and I only mean good in the sense that people are finally taking notice. The media is reporting it, blogs are talking about it, society is hearing about it. But it’s also bad in that we are seeing for the first time in history how truly pervasive this crime really is.

My concern is the more we talk about, the more cases we list, the more perpetrators we expose – do we risk society becoming apathetic? I think some citizens and some parents will become more aware, enlightened and engaged, but I fear others will become desensitized and disengage.

I would rather accept that most of society knows this is a problem at this point and offer solutions. So today’s post is just that – a solution – at least part of the solution. The true solution to child sexual abuse and exploitation, as the entire Monique Burr Foundation for Children (MBF) team learned recently at the Prevent Child Abuse America conference, is a multidimensional approach that encompasses many strategies and partners. One of those strategies is educating children.

So let’s talk today about talking to kids. If, as we always say, adults are responsible for keeping kids safe is true, why do we need to talk to kids? Because the child is the predator’s target and we can’t be with our kids 24/7. In other words, we can do the best we can to protect them, but if we don’t prepare them to protect themselves, a smart and manipulative predator might easily target and victimize them. So we need to empower and educate our children to help us keep them safe.

What do we talk to them about and when? There is no magic formula. The keys are to be available and to get over our own uncomfortable feelings about the topics we need to discuss. Topics which are many and varied – from basic body part names at the youngest of ages to safe use of social media at older ages. Sometimes as parents we get so busy that when our kids come to us we make them feel they are unimportant and we are too busy. Our goal should be to let them know we are always available to talk about anything. When kids know we are available, they are more likely to come to us with their questions and concerns, including questions about the more sensitive, scary or uncomfortable topics.

As adults, as parents, it is our responsibility to get over our own feelings of anxiety to protect our children. Even educated professionals are often uncomfortable talking to children about sex, sexual abuse, sexual exploitation and pornography. These are truly uncomfortable topics – I get that. But there are two very good reasons we must talk to our kids anyway.

Studies reveal children know more than we think they do and at younger ages than we assume. A Symantec study revealed that the fourth most frequently searched term on the Internet for children 7 and under was “porn,” indicating they have heard the word somewhere and they want to know what it is. And if we don’t talk to our children… somebody else will. Interviews with predators have revealed they look for children who don’t have knowledge and are curious about sexual topics and they initiate intimate conversations with them. These initial contacts often lead to further, and often willing, sexual activity.

We must not kid ourselves into thinking that our child is not susceptible to these predators. Every child – even the best, most innocent and well-protected child needs to be educated with safety information in order to protect themselves.

If you find yourself feeling uncomfortable thinking about having these discussions with your child MBF is here to help. The Monique Burr Foundation for Children has added a great resource to our website, “Discussing Sensitive Topics – A Parent Activity” to help parents who may be struggling to have these important conversations with their children. You can learn more about the age at which children are first exposed to these types of topics and the rates at which children are victimized and exploited in our country. Our resource about "Discussing Sensitive Topics" will help you understand the true risks and also help you better prepare to have these important but sometimes uncomfortable conversations with children. Let MBF help you look forward to important and potentially life saving conversations with your child. You will be empowering them with knowledge that will protect them from predators for years to come!

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