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Facts, Tips and Resources to help you help others.

How to Talk to Children as They Grow Up

When it comes to sexual abuse, protecting children is complicated. Children may be confused or embarrassed about sexuality, which can make communication and protecting them difficult.

Abuse is common: statistics quote about 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 7 boys are sexually abused before they reach the age of 18. Secondly, most abusers are known by the victim. Many studies suggest about 80 to 90 percent of abusers knew their victim. By following these guidelines you will have a much higher likelihood of protecting your child.

Don't Put Discussions Off

By the time your child reaches puberty it may be too late. It is your job to take the first steps in talking to your child about their personal rights and boundaries in an age appropriate manner.

Generally, by the time your child is four or five they should fully understand that:

  • Their body is theirs, and no one should be touching them inappropriately.
  • They have the right to leave a situation that makes them uncomfortable.
  • They should also know that if someone tries to touch them or does touch them inappropriately, they should tell you immediately.
  • Teach your child safety rules:
    • "No one should look at or touch the private parts of your body that are covered by a bathing suit."
    • "We never keep secrets about touching."
    • Teach your child how to stop uncomfortable touching (assertiveness) "I don't like it when you do that – I don't want you to do that anymore."
    • Help your child understand that an inappropriate touch is not their fault, even if they knew it was not okay and were afraid to say no.
    • Tell them to look for help until they get it and help them list some people to go to.
    • Tell them it is never too late to tell.

By the time your child is eight they should be aware of the changes that are soon to take place in their own bodies. You should also continue to teach them more advanced concepts such as:

  • They do not have to do anything they don't want to do.
  • They should trust their instincts.
  • It is not okay for them to engage in sexual behavior with adults.
  • It is not okay for adults to take pictures or videos of them in sexual positions or unclothed.
  • They deserve to be spoken to with respect and never feel coerced.
  • Adults should not discuss their sexual fantasies or share pornography with minors.
  • No one has the right to touch them without their permission.
  • It doesn't matter if they didn't say no before, they can say no now!

By eleven or twelve, kids should fully understand these concepts and the conversation should evolve into healthy dating, relationships, and personal boundaries.

  • Regardless of how a person dresses or talks, it does not constitute permission.
  • Pornography is not an accurate depiction of real life.
  • Alcohol and drugs may make it hard for them to maintain their boundaries and can cloud their judgment.
  • Touching someone sexually while they are drunk is abuse.

Build a Strong Support System

Studies show that incidences of high-risk teen behavior are less in families where teens feel that they are respected and supported as an individual.

  • Before your child reaches the teenage years they should feel that they can talk to you about anything without worrying about being yelled at, ridiculed, embarrassed or experiencing fear.
  • Even though some topics may be hard to discuss, it's likely your child will not talk to you in the future if you become excited and overreact.
  • Speak to your child logically and with respect and try to understand their needs as an individual.

With this kind of support, your child is more likely to feel comfortable coming to you for help.

Teens should understand that:

  • Their bodies are theirs.
  • Past permission does not obligate them to future activity.
  • They do not have to do anything they don't want to do.
  • They should trust their instincts.
  • It is not okay for them to engage in sexual behavior with adults.
  • It is not okay for adults to take pictures or videos of them in sexual positions or unclothed.
  • Regardless of how they dress or talk, it does not constitute permission.
  • Pornography is not an accurate depiction of real life.
  • They deserve to be spoken to with respect and never feel coerced.
  • Alcohol and drugs may make it hard for them to maintain their boundaries and can cloud their judgment.
  • Touching someone sexually while they are drunk is abuse.
  • Adults should not discuss their sexual fantasies or share pornography with minors.
  • No one has the right to touch them without their permission.

If they are in a relationship they should also understand that:

  • Both parties respect each others personal rights and boundaries in a healthy relationship.
  • They should decline sexual relations with anyone who refuses to use proper protection.

From Committee for Children