When I was a kid, the most difficult and awkward conversation between parents and children was the talk about “the birds and the bees.” Due to the Internet, increasingly graphic pop culture and explicit billboards and ads, today’s children can be considered precocious in this area and likely know a great deal about the topic before “the talk” ever even occurs.
Instead, the most difficult talk today between parents and children is one that is unfortunately not taking place enough. While the world is generally a safe place and the people our children are exposed to are almost always appropriate and safe, sadly the threat of abuse is real. Research has consistently shown that the most important and effective tool to protect our children is education. As loving and trusted parents, we have the capacity to safeguard our children, but it means having a difficult and uncomfortable conversation.
Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, a respected voice on the topic of child safety education (whom we hope to host next year for a Shabbos), identifies four points to communicate to our children in order to be empower them to protect themselves and to transform them into difficult targets for predators.
No secrets from parents – In a non-anxious, calm conversation we must remind our children that we love them beyond words and that they can feel confident confiding in us about absolutely anything. We must make them recognize that we take them seriously, we will honor their concerns and fears, and we will always do everything in our power to serve their best interests.
Your body belongs to you – It is crucial for children to understand the concept of personal space and that our bodies belong to us, and us alone. Our private parts are ours and absolutely nobody, not a friend, family member, or person in any position of authority can have access to them.
Good touch/bad touch – Not every touch is bad and qualifies as abuse. However, there is touch that is categorically wrong and should set off an alarm for our children. They must understand the difference so that they can be aware and respond appropriately.
No one should make you feel uncomfortable – Lastly, we must communicate to our children that no one should make them feel uncomfortable. If they do, they have a right to walk away and tell someone they trust.
Too many parents are avoiding this talk because they think they will introduce their children to a topic that will make them fear adults and worry excessively. However, the experts explain that rather than fear adults, children will feel safer knowing they can trust their parents and they will feel empowered to protect themselves going forward.
Should God forbid issues arise, the best way to respond to our children is to tell them that we believe them and that we will react appropriately. Halacha (Jewish law) is clear that safety concerns must be reported to the appropriate authorities and all mandated reporting laws must be observed. Remaining silent, covering up, or excusing inexcusable behavior leaves other children vulnerable to abuse and trauma that will haunt them their entire lives and do what can be irreparable damage.
There is no easy or pleasant time to have this conversation, but as parents it is irresponsible to delay. As many children prepare to leave to camp this week, it is a perfect time to remind them of the four points above.
May our children remain safe and may Hashem grant us the courage to act appropriately and responsibly in dealing with these issues.