When most parents think about their to-do list for getting their kids ready for the new school year, they are probably focused on things like pencils, notebooks, and a first day of school outfit. They may not realize that August presents a perfect opportunity to talk to their kids about some important topics, like child sexual abuse, personal safety, healthy relationships, and teen dating violence.
Studies show that talking openly and often with your kids about these issues can help reduce the likelihood of vulnerabilities that can lead kids to being impacted by violence. While parents may be uncomfortable having these conversations, they are an incredibly important way to ensure that your kids know what is and is not OK - and that you are always there to listen and help.
The goal of these talks is not to scare your children or make them worry that other people are out to hurt them. Instead, the purpose is to give them the information that they need to be safe.
So how do you go about talking to the kids in your life about their personal safety? Below are some of our best tips for kids of all ages.
For toddlers, preschoolers, and kindergarteners, the conversations should be as short and simple as possible. These talks don’t have to be a separate occasion, but can occur when you’re doing something else — like playing a game or during bath time. Look for natural opportunities to make sure that your kids know the proper names for their body parts and that they can say no to unwanted touches.
You might talk about things like:
Some parts of your body are private.
It is OK to say “no.”
Grown-ups should not ask you to keep secrets from parents.
You will not get in trouble for asking questions or talking about something that happened to you.
You can also give them specific examples, such as telling them that it’s OK to tell a grandparent that they won’t want to give them a hug or a kiss.
Elementary School Kids
At this age, kids are able to handle specific information, such as the difference between “wanted” touches and “unwanted” touches. These conversations should be a continuation of the lessons you have already taught your kids, such as their right to say no if they don’t want someone to touch their body. You can also teach them to pay attention to their feelings, and how certain feelings — like butterflies in their stomach or sweaty palms — may be a sign that a situation isn’t OK.
Older kids may also have greater access to the internet and may spend more time doing things without your supervision — such as going to practice, to friends’ houses, or to youth group. For this reason, it is important to go into more detail about privacy, different types of touches, and how to recognize behavior that makes them uncomfortable.
For older elementary kids, it may also help to role-play certain situations, such as:
What would you do if someone touched your body or asked you to touch their body in a way that makes you uncomfortable?
What would you do if an adult told you that they wanted you to keep a secret from me?
What would you do if someone on the internet asked you to send pictures of yourself to them?
Just as you would with a younger kid, emphasize that you are always there to listen and help — and that they won’t get in trouble for asking questions or telling you things.
Tweens and Teens
By the time that kids hit middle and high school, they may be more interested in dating and also spending more time without direct parental supervision — both online and off-line. For this reason, it is important to start talking more directly about issues related to consent and healthy relationships.
Tweens and teens may feel uncomfortable having direct, face-to-face conversations about these subjects. Try talking to them when you’re doing something else, like driving in the car. Your kids may be more likely to open up when they don’t feel pressure to talk to you about these subjects. You may even use pop culture or the media to start these conversations — such as a depiction of sexual assault or domestic violence on a TV show that they are watching.
Topics to address may include:
Any new friends that they have made. Ask questions to learn more about them.
Safety and consent in dating and relationships.
Watching out for their friends and speaking up if they see something inappropriate.
That it is always OK to say no or to change their mind about something, including sexual activity.
Warning signs of an abusive partner, such as monitoring their social media, isolating them from friends and family, and putting them down.
What human trafficking is, including both sex trafficking and labor trafficking, and that no one should ever have to exchange sexual acts for safety.
Online safety, including an agreement about security settings and controls.
At this age, kids can process more information that is direct. You may want to share statistics about sexual assault, including that it most often involves someone known to the victim, rather than a stranger. Continue to emphasize that you are always available to listen and help, and that your tween or teen won’t get in trouble for asking questions or sharing their experiences.
How We Can Help
At Blackburn Center, we offer a variety of resources to the community in addition to providing direct services to victims and survivors of gender-based violence. Our For Parents page is a great place to start if you would like some guidance on how to talk to your kids. You can also schedule a training and education program for your community group or organization, free of charge. We also offer programs for every age group in schools. Ask if your child’s school has scheduled Blackburn Center programs for the upcoming school year. If not, encourage them to reach out to Blackburn Center’s education department.
We also offer advice and guidance to parents and other loved ones through our hotline. If you are concerned about your kids or simply need advice on how to handle a particular situation, we can help. Call anytime at 1-888-832-2272 (TDD available). All calls to our hotline are free of charge, and can be anonymous.