Protecting children from sexual abuse

Gwen Randall-Young
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Many parents are wondering what to tell their children about sexual abuse by persons in positions of trust, such as coaches and teachers.

Sometimes it seems as though there is no one you can trust, yet this is not the fear-based mentality that we want our children to carry. Still, we want to protect them.

The reality is that most adults do not abuse children. We can teach them that most people are good, meaning that they will be safe with most people. However, all seemingly good people are not safe. If we talk only in terms of bad people, they may not question suspicious behaviors by individuals such as coaches or babysitters.

Children need to be able to discern when someone they think of as good, begins behaving in ways that are suspect. They need to understand something about boundaries. A quick hug is healthy. A hand resting briefly on the shoulder or the top of the head is fine. Touching private parts, or having a child remove clothing is not. Nor is asking a child to touch an adult.

Children may not have much practice in saying NO to an adult, but we can teach them to state clearly that they are not allowed to do that and that Mom and Dad will be upset. This will give a potential abuser the clear message that this child is aware, and will not be an easy victim. In effect, we are teaching them about their own boundaries and how to protect them. We must do this, as reality dictates that we simply cannot trust that everyone will respect such boundaries.

Children will not live in fear if we teach them how to protect themselves. In fact, they will feel stronger and more confident if they have been taught exactly how to act and what to say should inappropriate situations arise.

It is indeed unfortunate that so many children have been abused, and that we even need to address this topic with our children. There may be some consolation to those victims who have come forward, in knowing that their actions have alerted us so that we might protect others from the same fate.

Gwen Randall-Young is an author and award winning psychotherapist.

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