With my sweet beans, age 9, I’m very honest and always tell them the truth, simply. I don’t wait for scary one-time conversations, some big sit-down moment across a dining room table. Our sex and drugs talks happen in my car on the way to gymnastics.
“You know that no one should touch your private parts except for you, or a doctor while I’m present, right?” Yes, yes, we know. “And that you shouldn’t be touching anyone else’s private parts.” Yes, we know, we know. “And no one should ever be taking any type of photographs of you, or ask you to take any photos of them, right?” Ye—“And you shouldn’t be taking naked selfies or anything like that, right?” We know! “And no adult will ever ask you to keep a secret, unless it’s about a birthday party or gift. Good adults don’t ask children to keep secrets. Period. And they might even tell you things to scare you, like that they’ll hurt me or someone you love if you ever dare tell. That’s when you KNOW you must tell, right?” What, did I go too far? No one says anything. “Has anyone ever done anything like that to you?”
“No,” Lucas says.
“And you, Abby?”
“No.” She says it in a quiet voice.
“Why are you saying it like that? Is there anything you want to tell me?”
“No, I just don’t like talking about this. It’s creepy.”
“Are you sure?”
And I know then by the tone in her voice that she’s not keeping anything from me. All the same, I add, “And it’s not just an adult. It can be a cousin or one of your friend’s older brothers or sisters. Just trust your gut instincts. You both know when something feels ‘not right.’ If anything ‘not right’ happens, you tell me, okay? And you’ll never be in trouble and it will never be your fault. Understood? And you don’t do anything ‘not right’ to anyone else.”
“We know!” They say in unison, both smiling now.
Good, then I’ve done my job.
Our Girl Scout troop has been working on a journey, where our girls have decided that they want to help other children in our community. Sick children. Hurt children.
Tonight our troop is heading to a center that helps abused children and their families. I feel a tide of nausea rise within me just thinking about it. Mostly, I worry that the girls will have lots of questions, which will open up answers that some girls are ready for and others aren’t. It’s a touchy subject, and parents know their own children, how they can obsess or worry, and they don’t want to provoke a child’s anxiety. With girls in third grade, we’d like them to remain innocent for as long as possible, but also not to their own possible detriment. We’re heading to a center that supports children who’ve been abused–physically, emotionally, or sexually.
We’ll be sponsoring a drive, collecting new blankets and stuffed animals to be given to each child when they come to the center. So tonight, the girls are going for a child-friendly tour of the center (the abused children and their families will not be there). I’m sure it will open a dialogue between the girls and their parents, if nothing else. Personally, I can’t imagine not having had that talk with my children by now. But it’s one thing to have had a talk similar to the one I’ve detailed above and to let children know that other children have actually been abused. And that those children come here, to this place we’re in tonight, and they’re in pain, and our blankets, stuffed animals, and hearts go out to them.
April is Child Abuse Prevention month. Speak with your children, wherever feels right for you.