Career & Education

Teach kids about sexual safety

Dr Karla Hylton

Sunday, November 05, 2017

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Fresh data on violence against children released by UNICEF last week has put the sexual safety of children into sharp focus. According to UNICEF, over 1,000 boys and girls in 10 of Jamaica's 14 parishes reported sexual abuse in 2016.

I shudder to think of the number that has gone unreported, and of the statistics for the remaining four parishes.

But even while we express alarm and disgust at the incidence, we must ask ourselves as parents and caregivers how well we are preparing our children to protect themselves. Everyone, young or old, possesses a different personality which makes them respond to peril in different ways. Some kids are outspoken and assertive from Day 1, while others are meek and less aggressive. But in spite of personality, have we equipped our children to overcome the challenges that are bound to come up in their lives? Have we taught them skills to conquer fear and to shatter silence?

Some years ago I heard a story about a child whose teacher had touched her inappropriately. She was 14 years old at the time and lived a very sheltered life. On the surface, it appeared that she had loving and understanding parents, but she was terrified to inform them about what had transpired at school. The incident badly affected her grades in that one subject; but she was doing well in all other subjects. Nobody noticed the inconsistency. She was stressed and very unhappy.

I share this story to emphasise the necessity for keen observation on the part of parents and educators in ensuring the safety of our children in a perilous society. Nowadays, it is hard to know who to trust. When a child is betrayed by someone he or she trusts, it is a traumatic event which he or she may never fully get over. It leaves the child hurt, confused, scarred.

Even though it may seem unfair to lump everyone into one homogeneous group, I do believe that parents need to adopt the approach of “not trusting anyone”. Unfortunately, this means being cautious around pastors, teachers, coaches, doctors and other professionals with whom your child may come in contact. As the saying goes, “It is better to err on the side of caution”.

Paedophiles rarely seem like 'bad' guys. More often than not, they are 'trusted' adults in your child's life. They usually are charming and have a special way with kids. They seldom attack children out of the blue, preferring a slow and patient strategy instead. It involves them desensitising your child to inappropriate behaviour — known as sexual grooming — which will slowly and gradually escalate to physical contact. Sexual predators usually target kids who are very well behaved and do what they are told.

I cannot emphasise enough how critical it is for parents to speak to their kids from a young age about sexual misconduct. It involves multiple conversations.

Tips for Talking about Sexual Abuse

• Talk about body parts

Use proper names in your discussions and talk specifically about private body parts.

• Teach about Body Boundaries

Ensure that your child knows that no one should touch their private parts and no one should ask them to do so.

• No secrets

Most paedophiles will tell your child to keep the abuse a secret. It may be done in either a friendly or threatening manner. Your children should know that no matter what anyone says, they should always tell you about inappropriate behaviour.

• No pictures

No one is allowed to take pictures of private parts.

• It's ok to say 'no' to an adult

Some kids feel that they cannot say 'no' to an older peer or an adult. Make sure they understand that if something feels wrong, it probably is. It is ok to run away from the situation, cry for help, fight, and most importantly, inform you.

• Code words

You can select a word that is shared between both you and your children which they use if they feel unsafe.

• Body touches might be enjoyable

Explain to your child that a body touch may not always feel 'bad', but is still unacceptable.

• Rules apply to everyone

Your child must know that all these rules apply to anyone — whether a parent, step parent, teacher, coach, doctor, or pastor.

• You do not have to hug or kiss someone

Sometimes parents insist on their child hugging people. This should always be a decision for the child. There should be no obligation to hug or kiss someone if the child does not want to do so.

Unfortunately, even if parents follow these tips, it does not guarantee sexual safety for your kids. Find times to reiterate these messages as this is not a one-time conversation. Always be observant of any changes in your child's emotional or physical behaviour and academic or extra-curricular performance. As parents, we must 'read between the lines'. Children may not want to directly say that they are uncomfortable around a certain adult, but they may say things like “I don't like maths anymore” or I don't want to go to swimming anymore”. Do not just assume that your child is lazy. Investigate and have dialogue with your child.

Dr Karla Hylton is the author of Yes! You Can Help Your Child Achieve Academic Success and Complete Chemistry for Caribbean High Schools. She operates Bio & Chem Tutoring, which specialises in secondary level biology and chemistry. Reach her at (876) 564-1347, biochemtutor100@gmail.com or khylton.com.

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