Parents and educators often spend time discussing how to spot the signs of child sexual abuse, or what to do if your child has been molested, but what about getting ahead of those cases? What steps can parents take to prevent child molestation from happening in the first place?
“First of all, I think universal prevention is really important,” Karen C. Rogers, PhD, of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, tells Parentology. “Kids should be taught from a very early age the ‘doctor names’ for private body parts, so that if there’s something they need to talk about they can use language that others can understand easily.”
It’s natural for parents to want to protect a child’s innocence, but educating them doesn’t mean you’re taking away their childhood. Likewise, calling a penis a “wee-wee” or something similar isn’t helping the child maintain his or her youthful spirit. Children learning the names of body parts is one of the earliest lessons a parent teaches.
Donna Matthews, PhD writes in Psychology Today using these euphemisms usually reflect a parent’s own discomfort with talking openly about those body parts. This can inadvertently impart that there’s something naughty or “wrong” about them.
“Kids need to know that their penis, scrotum, clitoris, vagina, and vulva are body parts like their arms, feet, ears, and elbows,” she writes. “They’re different because they’re private — we usually keep them covered — but they’re healthy, good, acceptable body parts nonetheless.”
With that vocabulary in use, Rogers explains it’s essential for a child to then understand what “body rights and privacy” are. As you talk about body parts you can explain which ones are private, who can touch them — like a parent or doctor — and under what circumstances. All of this “enhances [a child’s] ability to recognize when something inappropriate happens and disclose it in a way that adults are likely to understand,” she says.
“If you have that foundation of conversation and teaching with the child, it’s a really different thing to then say to the child, ‘If anything happens to you, you can talk to me about it. And I won’t be mad, and I will do what I can to make sure that you’re safe.'”
Rogers also adds, “The other important risk-reduction strategy is to make sure kids have lots of positive social support and feel good about themselves. That gives them the self-confidence to speak up for themselves when needed. That’s much harder when a child feels lonely or unlovable or doesn’t think adults will believe or protect them. “
There are other added benefits, as well. Psychology Today notes that giving young people this vocabulary and early education not only discourages their susceptibility to molesters, it also lets them articulate what’s happened, and enhances kids’ body image, self-confidence, and openness.