Several weeks ago, I saw a Facebook post about how secrets can be dangerous things. Webster’s Dictionary defines a secret as something we keep hidden from the knowledge of others. Teaching children about secrets is an important part of keeping them safe from the long-term effects that can be caused by abuse.
According to a sexual abuse prevention workshop called “Parenting Safe Children,” secrecy is a key element to childhood sexual abuse. A Denver mom wrote a blog post about her experience with teaching her son an alternative to secret keeping. In her home, she teaches her children about surprises instead. She recounts the story of a friend who gave her son a cookie and said “shhh…it’s a secret.” To the mom’s utter delight, the son told the woman that in his home, they don’t do “secrets,” but instead they do “surprises.”
The mom explains “Surprises are something we keep quiet about temporarily; then you share the surprise and people are happy. But secrets are meant to be kept quiet forever and they are often protecting something that would make people unhappy.” Surprises are things like a birthday party or a gift. Secrets like sexual abuse leave long-lasting scars on everyone involved.
Often times, sexual predators will test children by asking them to keep smaller secrets (like cookies or other treats), building up to bigger and bigger secrets about what is happening to them. By teaching her children different terminology, she is bypassing this common method of trapping children in the abuse cycle. This little boy was bold enough to say that he doesn’t keep secrets. He is no longer a vulnerable target because of the wisdom of his mother in teaching him about body safety.
It is vital to start early teaching children about their bodies and which parts are ok to touch and which parts aren’t. If these important lessons are instilled in them early on, they are less likely to experience abuse, and the devastating effects it can lead to in the future such as anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation/attempts.
Body Safety Rules include the following (adapted from Parenting Safe Children Workshop developed by Sandy Wertele, Ph.D. and Feather Berkower, MSW):
1. No one is allowed to touch your private parts
2. You should not touch someone else’s private parts
3. No one is allowed to take pictures of your private parts
4. If someone tries to touch your private parts, say “NO!”
5. When playing friends, play with your clothes on
6. You are allowed to have privacy when bathing, dressing and using the toilet
7. You have permission to say “No” and get away if someone tries to touch your private parts or breaks any of your body safety rules
8. We don’t keep secrets in our family. If someone tells you to keep a secret, tell an adult.
Also, educate children that doctors and nurses sometimes have to examine these private parts of their bodies and that is ok, because Mommy or Daddy is with them. Begin to teach your children these rules now to eliminate them as targets later. If you don’t yet have children, adopt the practice now of not keeping “secrets” so that it will be easier to instill in them these principles when you do.
By: Rachel Clark, RN, BSN