It is back to school time, and I am starting to prepare my girls for school – my 6-year-old for first grade and my 4-year-old for her last year of pre-K. Part of our routine is a basic safety talk that I try to casually incorporate into our daily life every few months. This morning I read this blog about guarding kids from pornography exposure, and it reminded me how important open lines of communication are with our children. It is our job to guard their little hearts, minds, and bodies. So I thought I’d post what I say in our safety talk to start the conversation and maybe some of you can share how your family communicates to protect your children.
The Safety Talk
I always start by making sure the conversation is casual, positive, and straightforward. I let the girls know many times during the talk that they can ask any question they want as we go. Here is what we cover:
1. We review the proper names for each part of their bodies, and talk about how our body is our own property. In our family we began using informal names for body parts when they were little, but we have been slowly transitioning to the correct anatomical terms for each part as they’ve gotten older. So sometimes there is giggling when we talk about the vagina, penis, and anus, but we want the girls to know and use the proper terms for each body part. Research has shown that pedophiles typically use pet names for genitalia, and as our children grow older we can teach them to be alert to manipulation and grooming by a potential predator, as well as we will notice if they suddenly change what they are calling their body parts.
2. We talk about the difference between boys’ bodies and girls’ bodies. Sometimes this can get derailed, as can any conversation with a 4 and 6-year-old, and I just keep it light. I am trying here to establish open lines of communication, even about potentially embarrassing topics, to get them to come to me with questions instead of going to Google or to friends.
3. We discuss what to do if someone tries to touch our bodies or make us touch theirs (say no loudly, try to get away, immediately tell a safe adult). We discuss that nobody has the right to touch our bodies unless it is mommy or a doctor, and then only if something is wrong and if they give permission. As they get older, obviously this will transition to include the Sex Talk.
4. We discuss what to do if an adult tries to show us their body or look at our body (say no loudly, try to get away, immediately tell a safe adult). We gear this specifically to deal with adults, just to prevent them from yelling “danger!” in the girls bathroom at school. (As a funny aside, I asked my 4-year-old what to do if an adult tries to show her his penis, and she said, very seriously, “We tell Jesus.” I laughed and said, “Yes, we do tell Jesus, on our way as we run to tell a safe adult!”) We also discuss what to do if a friend or neighbor asks us to pull down our panties or to show our panties (one of my daughters has already been asked this by a neighbor, and I was surprised when talking to friends to find out how common this is, which prompted this addition to the safety talk). I am not wanting to develop shame about their bodies, but I want to teach them privacy, empower them to say no, and let them know that they have control over their own body.
5. We discuss how to recognize safe adults. I tell them that in a store or at church, a safe adult is usually someone like a mother with children, a police officer, or an adult woman they trust. Instead of teaching “stranger danger” we try to empower them to find and utilize safe adults when necessary. We practice confidently telling an adult what just happened and what we need. Our goal here is to give our kids a voice and teach them to speak up for themselves.
6. We also talk about unsafe adults. We define unsafe adults as people who tell them to keep a secret from mommy and daddy, people who make them feel uncomfortable or who treat them in a strange way, or people who try to isolate them from the group. We teach them to never go anywhere alone with an adult unless mommy and daddy have given permission and are fully aware of where they are at all times. Our goal is to develop in our children discernment, not fear. A Facebook commenter talked about how her family uses a passphrase to help her kids know when someone is picking them up that they weren’t expecting, which I thought was a great idea. Her comment reminded me of another thing I tell my children, that I will never send anyone to pick you up who you do not know, so if someone tries to tell you that – they are lying.
7. We discuss basic emergency procedures. They love this part. I let them practice calling 911 on my phone and they know how to use our alarm system at home to summon the police and fire department. I have them practice what they would say to the person who answers, including reciting their name, our address, and mommy and daddy’s name. We practice how to call their dad and their grandmother in an emergency if something is wrong and I am not able to help them.
This talk will get more complex as they grow older, and especially so once they begin to utilize social media and the internet. If your children are already there, here is one resource I have found and here is a blog I thought was very compelling about social media dangers for children. Jen Wilkin also wrote a great blog about talking to our kids about bad words they have heard, opening the door to them discussing these things with us and not other people. Again our goal with these talks is two-fold: give them information to keep them safe, and open up honest fearless communication so that they will always come to us first, not last.
Nothing can fully protect children from predators, but with open communication, knowledgable kids, and a ton of prayer, I feel more confident sending my babies into the world. What do you experienced parents have to add to this list?
Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who finds great delight in His commands. His children will be mighty in the land; the generation of the upright will be blessed. Psalm 112:1-2