Many parents struggle with this question. As your children grow and mature, each family must decide what works for the culture of their particular household. What is most important for kids to understand is that abuse is never a child’s fault, it is not likely to be a “stranger,” and that people who have these kinds of problems need help from grownups to stop.
Caring adults want to do whatever they can to protect children from the experience of being sexually violated, yet most aren’t sure how much to tell children. There are many ways to start the conversation: Do we tell them straight out that there are adults who sexually abuse children? Do we tell them “it probably won’t happen, but just in case, and we don’t know anyone like this, but you never know who it could be?” Maybe we are more comfortable talking about other kids or adults who might need help with sexual touching problems. Perhaps we set aside the specifics of the abusive behavior and talk in more general terms about good touch and bad touch? Choosing the right information at what age is a personal decision, yet we encourage you to choose a place to begin the conversation.
Sometimes we must consider having talks with our kids that may make us uncomfortable so that they can have the accurate information they need to stay safe in a world where sexual information is readily available – whether our kids ask for it or not.
There are many important topics to raise with children and teens which help prevent abuse and give them valuable confidence and knowledge about their bodies and their sexuality that is actually protective now and in the future. Children need accurate, age-appropriate information about healthy sexuality, as well as information about unacceptable behaviors among their peers or in adults.
Experience and research has taught us that action by adults can be more effective than expecting kids to protect themselves from sexual abuse. Kids shouldn’t have the responsibility to recognize and challenge unsafe behaviors. We know from national statistics that most child sexual abuse is never disclosed, (88%), perhaps largely due to the fact that children are under too much pressure to keep it a secret. Given the binds that most children find themselves in when sexual abuse has occurred, it is unrealistic to assume that they will be able to tell an adult. We know that some children do tell, but we must acknowledge that the chances are greater that they will not.