I do not go incredibly deep with many people, and I shy away from sharing too much of my soul. I suppose you could call me an extroverted introvert, or selective based on the situation. Like everyone, I desire to know and be known, but questions like “How did you potty train?”, “Who does you hair?”, and “What sleep training method do you use?” leave me thirsting for sustenance with others. There are deeply personal topics that need to be addressed by parents and friends, but those topics are all too often left in the attic due to their sensitive nature. Since we continue leaving lasting soundbites for this and future generations, I would like us to make a concerted effort to have more substantive discussions than whether or not we are following a whole food diet this month. I’ll start.
The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in Him, and He helps me. (Psalm 28:7)
I recently took my children to a friend’s home to play in the pool. While the kids (my two boys and her two girls) were running through the grass, eating strawberries, and talking about how a cucumber turns into a pickle, my new-found friend and I were talking about how intensely we loved our children and how grateful we were for them. It was a beautiful day with beautiful people, and the conversations were simple, sweet, and secure—until we started talking about things that make us insecure. While this other parent is not someone I’ve known terribly long, I now know more about her than some people I’ve known my entire life. And she can easily say the same. While both of us are fairly private people, we’ve allowed ourselves to be vulnerable and get to truly know each other; and with that, we talked through a variety of scenarios that I’m willing to bet most parents think about but may never mention out loud. The topic with this friend turned to tragedies—in particular, our shared concerns over child predators.
Did You Know?
- 1 out of every 3 girls and 1 out of every 5 boys are sexually abused during their childhood
- 1/3 of all sexual abuse victims are less than 6 years old
- 85% of those who are abused, know their abuser, and that abuser is a friend or family member
These numbers are staggering and should take your breath away. It makes you stop and take note of every child you see in the grocery store, in church, or in your neighbor’s yard. More than that, it makes you wonder who the predators are and if you know any. Now, we can’t think the worst of people, and we must give them the benefit of the doubt that they are who they say they are. But we need to be as wise as serpents and innocent as doves while we attempt to protect our children, teach them about their bodies, and talk about what God created to be good. So, how do we begin this conversation?
God saw all that he had made—and it was very good! (Genesis 1:31)
- Begin from the beginning. From the time they are babies, teach your children that God made everything and that they are fearfully and wonderfully made. Every part of their bodies is God’s good gift, and there is nothing shameful about them.
- After getting through the basics, expand the dialogue to explain that certain parts are only for them and no one else. When doing this, use proper terms when teaching about their private body parts. Slang terms, while they may seem innocent, are commonly used by predators and will be red flags for your children if once they know fact from fiction. As a side note: the marriage talk about sharing your body is reserved for later years. This is not a conversation about sex—it is a conversation to lay a solid foundation.
- Privacy, please. I potty trained each of my boys at 18 months in large part so they could being learning about this topic. No matter when you potty train, immediately begin teaching about privacy at the same time. If your children can take themselves to the bathroom, no one else needs to follow them. My two-year-old is beginning to understand the concept of privacy and knows not to follow others in the restroom. My four-year-old is well versed and knows what to do should anyone ever follow him into the restroom. This is a natural follow-up to a natural process you are already teaching.
- Acknowledge and validate their feelings. If your son or daughter doesn’t want to hug someone, whether that be a family member or friend, they have the right to their personal feelings and the right to say “No, thank you.” Give them the confidence that you support their choices about who they show physical affection (hugs, holding hands) to. If Aunt Sally or Uncle Sam have an issue with them not responding to “give me a big old hug” then that is their issue—not your child’s.
- Secrets versus surprises. More often than not, child predators will say things like “this is our little secret” or use bribery tactics as an attempt to buy affection and confuse the child emotionally. Establish clear communication within your family unit so your children know that you don’t keep secrets and there is never a reason to hide things from you.
- Red flags. After the above, make certain your children know that if there are people who make them feel “funny” or have told them to keep a secret (no matter what it is) they should come to you right away. Regardless of what anyone tells them, they will never be in trouble for telling you the truth.
I wish this was not a topic I felt inclined to talk about, but we live in a sinful and sick world. The sad reality is, those who are not prepared often make for the easiest of prey. Don’t be the parent who naively believes that to love others is to turn a blind eye. You never truly know what is going on in the recesses of another mind and heart. Sexual abuse is something every parent fears, and Christian parents must proactively prepare in hopes this does not become something that occurs to their child. We need to talk about this not only to protect our children, but to protect other children. We do not live in fear, because fear is not of God. We don’t teach our children all people are scary or have bad intentions. But we do wake up to the reality of this world and have active conversations with our children so the parent/child relationship is strong as they continue to grow.
If you find yourself in a situation where you suspect something has happened to your child, or if your child does come to you, do not brush aside your instincts. Discernment is a gift we should sharpen so as to tackle any scenarios—no matter how hard they are to think about. Many things happen that are out of our control (because we aren’t in control), and even if the worst thing imaginable were to occur, Jesus is a strong anchor and can get you and your family through any storm. In the meantime, talk to your children and plant deep relational roots. Be their parent. Be their protector. And just be there.
For more information on this topic and excellent resources to help young children understand about their bodies, please check out the book and articles listed below and join us on our closed Facebook page HERE.
God Made All of Me | Justin and Lindsey Holcomb
Reducing Children’s Vulnerability to Sexual Abuse | Advocacy Center
Five Phrases That Can Help Protect Your Child From Sexual Abuse | Parent.co
How Parents Can Teach Their Child to Recognize and Prevent Sexual Abuse | SpiritLed Woman
Trusting Him with them,
Gabbie Nolen-Fratantoni loves Jesus and is passionate about serving him through the arts by leading worship and writing for various ministries. She is married to Greg, her hard-working, iron-sharpening-iron spouse. They are opposite in personality but equal in dedication to their marriage and family. Gabbie and Greg are the proud and sleep-deprived parents of two active, sweet, and fun boys and recently welcomed the arrival of their first little girl. An Aggie and graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary, Gabbie is a small-town country girl trapped in the city and loves getting to know people and encouraging them as they seek to know Jesus and make him known.