One of the most important and dreaded aspects parenthood is when parents have to do “the talk” with their kids. It is as if the kid is introduced to a whole new reality (if they haven’t been exposed before by their surroundings). Majorly, talking about privacy and private parts ends up being a taboo and are only spoken about in super-hushed tones.
However, the increased surfacing of events of sexual abuse on children, which lead to long-term effects like depression and anxiety and sometimes result in suicides, over the past decade calls for a reconsideration of measures that can be taken to help if not prevent it all together. In the most harrowing of cases, children are murdered either by the perpetrators or by the physical impact of the act itself.
As a parent what could one possibly do to save their child from something that the child isn’t entirely equipped to understand? How early on should the child be warned about it? How are they even supposed to make him/her understand such things?
Some might even argue why even should children have to “mature” before it is even time? Shouldn’t it be the criminals who should be the receiving end of all measures against child sexual abuse?
These are some of the questions which organisations like ChildLine in India and NSPCC in the United Kingdom seek to answer and find solutions to. They’ve come up with guides and innovative acronyms to help children understand the necessary act of self-preservation without having to put the pressure of complex concepts on their minds. Independent NGOs too have awareness drives as well as rehabilitation programs for the young victims.
The most iterated fact around the events of sexual abuse on children is that the offender is someone known to the child. Hence it is even more important that they should be familiarised with these acronyms by their parents. Thus, saving children from losing, what is commonly referred to as “innocence”.
It is up to the parents to decide as to how much they wish to reveal to their child at what age. This is not about teaching how to raise a child but about preparing a child to deal with the problems that affect
As for the criminals, there are laws under the POCSO Act in Indian Constitution that safeguard and provide assistance to the victim as well as provide ample compensation in terms of castigation against the malefactor.
One of the widely used acronyms developed by the NSPCC is known as the PANTS rule.
- P – Privates are Private
- A- Always remember your body belongs to you
- N- No means no
- T- Talk about secrets that upset you
- S- Speak up, someone can help
It is to be made sure that private parts: chest, buttocks and the “part between their legs” (to be used for kids below the pre-teen stage) or the respective parts according to the sexes (for pre-teens and teenagers); are something that no one has the right to touch, besides their parents up to a certain age, no matter who it is.
The second pointer is to create awareness about respecting others’ bodies and personal spaces along with their own. This is to make sure that children do not end up harming others the same way that they are being taught to save themselves from.
The power of a loud and clear “no” has been lately recognised by people of all ages. It is important that they understand that no one can physically impose themselves even after saying “No!” If there is no choice left the child must know that he has to raise an alarm and hit back if need be (Parents may choose to refrain from this).
Talking is a major tool. It is often through their talking habits that a lot can be known about the environment the kid is in. A sharp change in behaviour or acquiring a tone or accent which is unlikely to affect the child can be warning signals. Therefore, kids must be encouraged to talk more about what is happening in their lives away from their parents.
Often the perpetrator takes advantage of their innocent minds and threatens them to keep a “secret” which if they fail to do will cause some kind of harm or other. In times like this, the kid must know that he/she can trust his/her parent(s). Constant reassurances are required to ensure that the child does not hesitate to approach the parent(s).
It may so happen that the child is unable to tell its parents due to some unforeseen reason. The child must be told that he/she can approach a teacher at school or the principal if things still do not work out. Here’s the speaking out part. The kid must be in no way deterred from being heard. Remaining silent should in no way be an option.
The “how” depends on the age of the child. The approach to the topic varies with what interests the kid. Here are some pointers to keep in mind:
- The talking should never be in hushed tones. This sends out a signal to the child that private parts are something that’s shouldn’t be talked about much.
- Do away with the embarrassment that is associated with all this.
For kids in kindergarten, one of the NSPCC suggested methods of approach are by talking about the different parts of the body.
- Start with the parts like the eyes, nose, and ears while doing some other activity like playing ball or eating.
- Move onto talk about the three “private” parts, namely the chest, buttocks and the part between their legs.
- Emphasize how no one else is supposed to see or touch those parts besides their parents and preferably only one parent.
- Try exercises in which the child identifies touches as “good” or “bad” touch depending on whether they are private or not.
- Try to push the child into learning how to change clothes themselves and helping themselves to the washroom.
- Make it clear that they are to freely ask their parents for help when they feel they cannot do the above on their own.
- Encourage respect for physical spaces between siblings. They are best to be made to sleep apart if not in separate beds.
Parents must know that all this talk must be done in a casual manner to avoid passing conservative vibes. As much as children are innocent, they are quick in catching vibes that are not conducive even though they might not know how to name it or talking about it.
As they advance in years, children must be introduced to either little more detail about their body parts or instructions about what to do if they ever find anyone invading their privacy. Parents can even use videos and interactive media specially designed for this purpose. They can find the same on the ChildLine website: http://childlineindia.org.in/
These simple instructions do have some connotations and exceptional cases. Dealing with these situations is bound to bring up different kinds of problems for different peoples. For example, these guides and acronyms in no way mean that children must stay away from relatives or interact way too minimally with the people around them, nor do they mean that in the event of the unfortunate that children are at fault for failing to follow what has been told.
The crux being: they should know that there is someone to help them out. They shouldn’t even hesitate to use helplines like 1098 managed by ChildLine. These measures seem as though they might be missing out on children who do not have the average ability to understand or control if they undergo abuse. However, ChildLine and the NSPCC have special guides and measures for them as well.