“Babysitter is Charged With Sexual Abuse of 3 Boys.” A 21 year old college student, Jonathan Then, “manny” to many families in the Manhattan-Brooklyn area is the purported perpetrator. He has also volunteered in 2nd and 3rd grade classrooms and coached childrens’ sports teams. Two young boys told their parents about his inappropriate behavior and they called the police. Many other children then reported the same thing about Mr. Then. This is a parent’s nightmare and a confusing and traumatic experience for a child.
The possibility of sexual abuse by a babysitter, male or female, is never that far away from our awareness. It takes a certain leap of faith to allow a stranger to be alone with our child at all. Of course, we all want to trust in the people close to our children and for the most part we can, but in reality unfortunate things will happen. What we can control is empowering our children to be open with us about the topic of bodies and sexuality. Here are some important things you can do from toddlerhood on to make sure children feel that they have a trusted and safe adult to come to for comfort and information.
Anyone who has been in a mother’s group with us knows we stress how important it is to talk to your children about this topic. We know that this can be hard for people who grew up without that kind of open dialogue. Bodies and sexuality are tender and sometimes embarrassing topics for all of us. But when you think of the brave boys who told their parents about their babysitter, you can see the importance of letting your child know that they can speak to you about anything and everything.
Here are some suggestions about encouraging openness:
As soon as your child is toilet training you can begin an open, funny, and honest approach to talking about the body. Teach them about how their bodies work, and about their private parts. As your children continue through the preschool years there will be many times when your honest straightforward manner teaches them important lessons.
Take it on.
Your little boy is in the tub and gets an erection. “Look Mommy it’s sticking out!” Instead of ignoring it, or even telling him not to talk about things like that, here’s your opening! “Yeah, your penis IS sticking out. Sometimes penis’ get hard and stick out. It feels good and tickly. That happens to all boys.” Finito.
Don’t shame them.
You walk in the room and your four-year old daughter and her friend are naked and giggling hysterically and yelling, “We are bumping butts!” After closing your dropped jaw and getting the girls dressed you can address this head on with no shame or humiliation, but with clear rules. ” I know it felt fun to play bumping butts, but the rule here is that we don’t touch our friends private parts. Even if we like to. So we are going to keep our clothes on on play dates.” I would even talk to your daughter privately and remind her that she can touch her own vagina but not someone else’s. I know, I know, this is hard stuff, but when you get more comfortable it will feel more natural.
Teach them boundaries and that saying no is important. If anyone ever touches them or asks them to do something that makes them feel yucky or funny they should come and tell you. You will help them out with it.
Answer their questions.
One of the best gifts a parent can give their child is the ability to feel comfortable asking questions about sex. A group member once spoke about her sixth grade graduation party. “While playing spin the bottle a boy put his tongue in my mouth. A few minutes later I went to find my mom. ‘Timmy R just put his tongue in my mouth!’ She answered with a totally straight face. ‘That is called French kissing and if you don’t like it ask him not do it.’ Hmmm…I do remember Timmy R with fondness so I guess it wasn’t that bad. But I got a message loud and clear-it was my body and I made the rules with boys.”
The sad but true fact is that we cant always protect our children. But we can teach them how to not only enjoy and understand thier bodies but also how to protect them.