Chapter Three: Considering the Right Time to Talk to Your Children About Sexual Predators & Encouraging Them to Share

It is important to consider your child’s age when discussing the topic of sexual predators. You want to protect them rather than scare them. Depending on the age of your child, they may become traumatized, not fully understand the idea of sexual predators, or they may even take it as a joke. This sensitive topic must be explained in an appropriate manner catered to the right age group and the right parent-child relationship. From an early age, it is important to keep a calm, open, loving approach when it comes to communicating with your child, as the way you approach them will ultimately determine whether or not they share important information with you.

Talking to Pre-school Children

The best time to start teaching your child about their private parts is between the ages of two and three years old. It’s important to first establish an open relationship with your child so that they can be comfortable sharing private information with you. Learn to be comforting and accepting of your child and their decisions, so as to not push them away. Let your children mature and become curious about different things in life, like their bodily functions and the differences between boys and girls. This sort of curiosity tends to occur between the ages of 3 and 4. Children of this age can bite, hit, or kick one another for ownership of toys or the playground, and at this time it is important to teach your children that their bodies are their own, and no one else should be touching them. If they continue to ask why and question your instructions, let them know that you will talk about it when they are older.

If you begin to talk about private parts at such a young age, children may not understand or could become fearful to go out or even sleep at night. On that note, it is important to bring up these issues and differences with your child when you are engaged in a more serious conversation with them. It might not be a good idea to initiate such a conversation out of the blue because they most likely won’t be as engaged and understanding of the topic at a very young age.

At the young age of 3 and onwards, teaching your child a sense of "self-worth" is imperative in order for them to understand when they are being treated disrespectfully or when they are engaging in acts that they find to be uncomfortable or against their instincts. Studies show that the most sexually abused children are those that may not have the best family life or feel lost and lonely in the world. If children gain a sense of empowerment and worth from a young age, this feeling will grow with them throughout life and help them stay away from abusive situations on their own.

It is important to cater to your child’s age appropriately by modifying the conversation for their level of understanding. At the age of two or three, most kids begin daycare or preschool and begin to interact with others. Prompt your child to tell you if anyone touched them inappropriately or even appropriately while away to get them used to sharing information with you. The best time to do this would be right after picking them up from daycare or seeing them for the first time since being away, so as to create a comfortable environment. Make sure to tell them that they are not in trouble, and that you will be there to love and support them no matter what to help create a trusting relationship. It is essential that you do not ask these types of questions in front of the person you suspect may be touching your child inappropriately. This does not create an open environment and may actually intimidate your child, leading them to not tell you the truth out of fear.

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Talking to Elementary & Middle School Children

For young children, specifically school-age children, it is important to make sure they know their full names, addresses, and phone numbers as well as your workplace and neighbors’ numbers. They should also know how to call 911 in an emergency and how to call the operator. It is also vital to constantly remind them to not give away this information to anyone they do not know. You must explain that giving personal information away puts them in an extremely risky situation and may result in danger.

Teach your children about human body

As children begin to get older, it is essential that you teach them about their bodies while they are still fairly young. You should be open to teaching your child about body parts, including the vagina, penis, and breasts. It is important for them to understand that these parts are private, and no one should be touching or even talking about these parts with them unless it is an immediate family member or doctor. A troubling piece of information that young children must be aware of is that not only do strangers pose a risk to them, but family members and friends are also capable of harming them. This information can get tricky to word to young children, as to not invoke vast amounts of fear in them. Approach this subject in a calm, yet serious manner without explaining the topic in immense detail. Make sure to tell your children to be wary of friends and family if they begin to offer candy or toys to them. Warn your children to alert you of any such situations right away. Teach them at a young age that certain body parts are private, and if anyone approaches them asking to touch them or even talks about these parts, they should alert you or a trusted adult of the situation immediately.

Warn your children about sexual predators tricks

You can play "what-if" scenarios with your child to help them understand and know what a potential situation may feel like, so they are prepared if that were to ever happen. Warn your children about so-called "authority tricks" that many sexual predators employ. Explain to your child that sexual predators have a tendency to act as cops with fake badges and uniforms and try to lure children away or into their cars. Tell your child that real cops would never do anything like that without talking to you or a guardian before. Inform your child of these potential situations so they know to scream and run away if someone they don’t know or trust approaches them. It is also essential that they know to always ask for your permission to go anywhere, or with someone, and to alert you of a situation like this to protect themselves. As your children grow more mature, you can help them learn Internet and technology safety such as not sharing any personal information or photos, as well as identifying and reporting sexually suggestive advances.

Talking to High School Children

As children get older, it is important to understand that adolescents need their private space. Keep an open forum with them, but know to maintain some distance so that you won’t act as a "helicopter parent," hovering and spying over their every move, which could dissuade them from sharing information with you. Setting boundaries with teenagers becomes a key element to helping them understand the responsibilities of growing up while still giving them the "personal space" they desperately want.

Adolescents and teenagers learn best from example. While parents may take a more authoritative stance with younger children and teach and lecture them on safety tips, teenagers learn best by taking note of what those around them are doing. It is for this reason that it is very important to monitor your children’s behaviors with friends and family, and to act as a role model for your teenager, not a lecturer. Media and pop culture have a tremendous amount of influence on teenagers, so it is important to continue dialogue between you and your child to help them identify and avoid sexual pressures or and dangerous situations. Help them understand that the media is not a proper representation of life, and that they should follow your lead and examples. By this age it is important for children to know most, if not all, trusted adults in their family and friend groups.

As teenagers get to the age of going off alone with friends, the language and scenarios you use to warn them of danger tends to change. At this age, it is important to teach your children to not only be careful of older adults, but also to stay together with friends in groups, and to never wander off alone. One essential behavior that all teenagers should become experts in is never going to the bathroom or to the store on their own. During this time in their lives, children begin to feel a sense of independence and a want to do "adult" things. Teach your teenager to never go anywhere alone, and that it is never "cool" to put oneself in such danger. It is vital that you tell them that although they think they are old enough to do things on their own, they are still your children and just as vulnerable to getting lured and sexually abused by a predator. You can continue with "what-if" scenarios with your teenager, but with more realistic and age-appropriate language of situations they might encounter. These "what-if" situations should resemble more probable situations with friends, at group gatherings, and in public spaces like malls and movie theaters.

Monitor your teenager behavior

In addition to incorporating "what-if" situations with your child, you must also monitor your child’s behavior at home, with friends, and especially on the Internet. As teenagers are more likely to engage themselves in risky behaviors to be "cool," children of this age are extremely vulnerable to potential violence and abuse by adults. Children of this age may have a hard time discerning whether an adult they met online means them harm. If you suspect your teenager is communicating with sexual predators or people who are of bad influence, it is encouraged to install parental blocks and controls on televisions, computers, and cell phones. Again, be sure not to act as a "helicopter parent" watching over each and every activity of your child, but do set limits with your children and encourage open discussion whenever possible.