Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Educating Children - Clarity is Key

There is no greater impediment to the advancement of knowledge than the ambiguity of words.
-Thomas Reid

This story is a true story.
This story happened to me, not to a friend of mine.
I could have chosen to use literary license and told the story in third-person, but that might minimize the message.

It was the most embarrassing moments of my life, bar-none.
I was about 9 years old and I needed to go to the nurse in the day camp.
When I got to the nurse’s trailer, there were other people there, including a male who was about 20 years old. I had never seen this man before. This man saw me and commented about my ears. Back when I was 9, my ears stuck out quite a bit. This man decided to utilize that fact by standing behind me and entertaining the crowd of people using my ears.
For what seemed like an eternity, this man played with my ears while joking about them, entertaining everyone else at my expense.

I was embarrassed.
I was confused.
I was ashamed.

Then I started thinking about all those “public service messages” I had seen on TV. The ones where they give you important child safety messages.
“No one is allowed to make you feel uncomfortable”
“No one is allowed to touch you in ways you don’t like”
“If this ever happens, you must tell an adult”

This got 9 year old me wondering if these messages were talking to me right now.
Did he make me feel uncomfortable? YES!
Did he touch me in a way I didn’t like? He sure did! I didn’t like him touching my ears that way! I didn’t like it that he used my ears as a prop in is impromptu comedy show!

So I told a counselor of mine, who got the camp staff involved.
After half an hour they found the guy. He quickly admitted that he made me uncomfortable because he played with my ears. Camp staff quickly realized that his playing with my ears was what made me report him for “touching me in ways I didn’t like”. 

It was unfortunate that back in the ‘80s that was the extent of child sex abuse prevention. It is even more unfortunate that there are people still teaching these same flawed lessons today.

The reason why they are flawed is quite simple, they are too vague. I didn’t lie. I didn’t like to be touched that way and he made me feel very uncomfortable. How would you feel if you and your ears were being used as a comedy show at your expense?

While public embarrassment is very wrong, it isn’t anywhere near sexual abuse.

When it comes to educating a child about sex abuse prevention, you need to be direct as possible.
Here are some tips when discussing the topic of “bad touches”:
 Use proper names for the child’s genital areas
 Teach children that no one is allowed to touch the areas that are normally covered by a bathing suit.
 Teach that touching doesn’t just mean with hands
 Teach children that requesting to see these areas uncovered/undressed is also off limits (remind them that this includes pictures).
 Teach that like all rules, there are exceptions. The advised exceptions are parents and a doctor/nurse, only when a parent is present in the room.
 There is also an exception for cases when the child needs help e.g. The child has an accident, the child needs help in the bathroom, a medical emergency in the area on the body which is normally covered by a bathing suit.
 Use this time to reinforce that uncles, siblings, friends, teachers, community leaders etc. are NOT exceptions.
 Educate the child that just like no one can see their genitals, no one should be showing the child their own genitals. Just like one cannot touch a child’s genitals, the child should not be touching the genitals of someone else.
 Don’t forget to use this time to remind your kids about reporting if any of the above situations occurred (or potentially occurred).  Remind them that it is a MITZVA to tell you, that there is no LASHON HARA in telling their parent that this happened to them OR SOMEONE ELSE THAT THEY KNOW!

Childhood years are a time of constant learning. This is a time when there are often more questions than answers. That’s why it is of the utmost importance to be as clear as possible. Ambiguity and hoping for the best is a very poor strategy. Be clear, ask the child to repeat the message (as a way of ensuring that the child has correctly understood) and allow the child to ask questions.

There are many other components to speaking with your child about child sexual abuse prevention. Just talking about the topic of “bad touches” is an incomplete discussion. While I am unable to go through the entire list right now, clarity is a fundamental principle that is required with all components.

Yisroel Picker is a Social Worker who lives in Jerusalem. He has a private practice which specializes in working with people of all ages helping them understand their own thought processes, enabling them to improve their level of functioning, awareness, social skills and more. He also lectures on the topics of communication and child safety.  
You can email Yisroel at yisroel@ympicker.com
Follow Yisroel on LinkedIn here

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