I often sound like a broken record, but communication is KEY! Talk, talk and talk again with your kids about body safety and the relationships they have with other people including their friends and yours, immediate and extended family, classmates, teachers, coaches and anyone in their circle. Topics to reinforce with kids to keep them safe from grooming and from predators in general are to:
1) Be sure children know the proper names of body parts and which ones are “private” and “just for them”. It’s important to teach children proper body part names so in the tragic event they are molested, they will know how to describe what happened to them in terms other people can understand. I can’t overemphasize how important this is! I was involved in an interview one time where a child called a penis an “esophagus”… now that’s confusing!
They also need to know which parts of their bodies are just for them, parts that no one should touch for “no good reason” or “just to play a game”. With younger children, always use a washcloth at bath time, and reinforce the importance of always using a washcloth. Ask them to tell you if someone ever tries to clean them skin-on-skin.
Finally, reinforce that keeping body parts private also means NOT letting anyone take pictures of those parts, and to let you know if someone does. Talk with teens and tweens about the dangers of sending naked or partially naked photos of themselves to anyone… even someone they think they can trust.
2) Talk about the differences between a “surprise” and a “secret”. Surprises are supposed to be fun things like celebrating a birthday or special holiday. Secrets are things that people keep between themselves. Reinforce with your children that secrets should never involve touches to private body parts and that if anyone ever asks them to keep a “secret” from their parents, they should immediately tell you. This includes if someone gives them a gift or lets them do “something special”.
3) Reassure children that abuse could never, ever be their fault! If someone tells a child he is to blame, that person is flat-out lying. This point cannot be overemphasized and is a common blame-game tactic used by sexual predators to keep children silent about abuse.
4) Teach children to say “NO!” to any touches to private body parts that are for “no good reason” or “just to play a game”. I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve talked with children who found the strength to say “NO!” or resisted a predator’s attempts… and that very action kept them from becoming victims. Again, sexual predators often seek out children who are obedient or compliant. Help your child find the confidence to tell someone “NO!” like they mean it if they are ever in a situation that makes them uncomfortable. Seriously, have them practice using outdoor voices inside — say “NO!” with gusto!
5) List with your child the people in her life she could talk to if she was ever abused. Ask her with which adults she is most comfortable confiding. Is it a parent? Grandparent? Teacher? Talk through that list with your child so she identifies for herself who those confidants would be. Also, discuss the fact that if she were to disclose to someone who didn’t believe her, that she should go and talk with someone else… and keep doing that until someone listens, believes and takes action to protect her.
6) Monitor your child’s online activity. As with other social interactions, it’s important to know what your child is doing online. There is software that can help you monitor his online activity including identifying what websites are visited, as well as specific social media interaction. There are a variety of other monitoring programs.
Some parents have had tremendous success asking their children to sign a “Phone and Computer Use Agreement” which outlines safety measures and usage parameters by which they agree to abide in order to be granted the privilege of having access to the Internet.