Even so, 'body safety' as a set of rules that apply to body autonomy and private parts are only one part of the necessary education and nurturing of children. There is also an essential emotional component that cannot be 'learned' it must be nurtured between the child and a caring adult - preferably a parent.
For those parents out there that truly want to do everything in their power to protect their children, here are three tips to best protect and empower your children beyond rocking the body safety talk.
Treat Them With Respect
Treating children as people who have a right to opinions, emotions, preferences - this is what helps them feel like they have a right to be treated with respect by others. It doesn't mean we give in to every whim, it simply means that we acknowledge their feelings, we consider their thoughts as being valid to them, no matter how immature or foolish they may seem to us.
Children that feel 'less than' may feel they don't have a choice when someone - especially a family member or other authority figure violates their personal autonomy.
In fact, parents that don't treat their children respectfully can actually increase opportunity for abusers who now have an 'in' with that child. They can be the one to show interest and understand how they feel. The child is often so surprised and happy to receive such positive attention that by the time the relationship becomes damaging, they may be too afraid to lose that one person who treats them that way, or they may feel they themselves caused it and are obligated to follow through. It becomes yet another way the child must submit the value of their rights to the wants of another person who deserves more respect than they do, or so they've been raised.
Simply listening to a child is a way to not only show that child love, but respect, and in turn, give them the power to understand that their voice matters.
Treat Failings as Opportunities for Improvement, not Just Punishment
Conversely, if we are able to maintain composure and focus on helping our children identify solutions and proper restitution when things go wrong - they will see us more as the person they need to go to when a problem needs to be resolved (Read: Consultant Parenting). In essence children learn to take responsibility for their own actions and feel closer to us because they still feel loved, even at their least lovable.
For any child, disclosing sexual abuse carries the weight of shame, various forms of blackmail that will come to light (whether it's disclosing what happened to them, drug or alcohol use, gifts, money etc), and even with the strongest bond it will be a challenge for them to not feel guilty and embarrassed. The last thing a child considering telling such a secret wants to be exposed to is yelling and anger.
Don't Forget We're Empowering Our Children Against Sexual Abuse - Including Abuse Perpetrated By Them
Some abuse prevention trainings won't talk about our responsibility to raise children with a strong understanding of appropriate sexual behaviors, respectful relationships, the need for consent in any and every situation - and the difference between assumed consent and actual consent. Yet, we have the opportunity to make a significant impact on the future of sexual abuse.
Research has shown that empathy plays a significant role in raising children that don't become offenders themselves (Walker & Brown, 2013). Not surprisingly, abusers often lack remorse and focus on their wants with little consideration for those they perpetrate against. Perhaps surprising, many people are raised in such a manner - thinking of the world as means of accomplishing what they want, even if that means it being at the expense or indifference to others.
One of the chief sources of discomfort for families whose children were abused by another juvenile is the lack of interest of the offending child's family to seek help to address the problematic behavior. It often becomes apparent that the values of those protecting such offenders are not based in morals, but self-serving interests and lack of interest in living with the ugly truth that even 'good' people, kids even, can commit sexual abuse.
With more children being exposed to sexualized materials through the internet and media it is not surprising that pornography addiction is occurring at a muchyounger age. It will take parents with both feet firm in reality, hearts set to nurture and guide with love, not fear or power, and the courage to have conversations that matter with the goal of raising responsible, moral, compassionate human beings. When it comes to raising our children we have every right and responsibility to help break the cycle of abuse by raising a generation of adults that don't just 'know better' but are raised better.