By this age, you would have talked to your child about appropriate and inappropriate touch when it comes to their genitals. If you have not done so, this is a good time to bring this up.
Doing so lays the foundation for addressing the improper sexual attention your child’s friend received. Build on your conversation about “good touch” and “bad touch.” You could say something like, “Do you remember when Daddy and Mummy talked to you about what’s a good touch and what’s a bad touch? Your friend received a bad touch. It’s not your friend’s fault, and the person who did it has done something wrong.”
If you know the other child’s parents, you can bring this to their attention. If not, you can tell your son or daughter to ask his or her friend if you may contact them. Another option is to alert the teachers about this situation.
This is a good opportunity to help your children to understand that not all adults are trustworthy. Remind them of the importance of not interacting with strangers and teach them what to do if a stranger approaches or interacts with them in an unsafe way. They should run away and shout out that the person is not their parent.
This builds upon their skills of refusing touch that makes them uncomfortable. Again, if this is not something you have taught your kids, this is the time to do so.
Explain to them that unsafe strangers may say things that do not at first sound suspicious, like, “I lost something. Can you help me look for it?” If this happens, teach your child to say, “I can’t help you. Let me get an adult to help you.” Chances are, if the person is not genuine, he or she may then leave quickly.
Sexual abuse can also come from people the child knows. Remind your kids that if a family member, relative, teacher, or any other adult tries to touch, see, or photograph/film their genitals or tries to show your kids their genitals (whether in person or through a digital device), they must immediately inform you about it. This is especially so if the person has told them not to tell their parents.
Assure them that, no matter what has happened, you will not be angry at them and you will still love them. If they do tell you of such incidents, make sure to communicate to them with both your words and facial expressions that you are not ashamed of them nor do you blame them because of what they experienced.
You can also do your part by getting to know whom your kids spend their time with and to never leave them in the care of someone you do not know very well.
The same principles and practices above apply to kids of older age groups. But you can now build on these previous conversations by exploring them further with them.
Parents need to keep in mind that if their kids share that their friend has received unwanted sexual attention, the way they respond provide cues for their children to know if they can bring up this topic with them again.
It is important to explain to children that the person who was inappropriately touched or upskirted was not to be blamed or shamed. Our kids also need to understand that this unwanted sexual behaviour is to be taken seriously, and not brushed aside flippantly.
Ask your child some questions to find out more about the situation. Stick to finding out key information, and don’t overwhelm them with a barrage of questions. If you assess that he or she is ready for this, you may like to coach them on how to talk to their friend about the incident, as well as how to offer help in appropriate ways. If you think it is better for you to step in to contact their friend’s teachers or parents, do so in discussion with your child. Though they may not be directly availing help themselves, involving them in the process helps them to know how serious the issue is and allows them to know what these steps are—should the need arise for them to act on these steps in the future.
When you respond in a level-headed and loving way, this sends a clear signal to your child that he or she can talk to you should such incidents happen to him or her.
It is possible that your son or daughter personally experienced the inappropriate sexual touch or had their privacy violated, but they are saying it happened to their friend to gauge whether they can tell you about what has happened to them. Listen carefully to what your child is trying to tell you. They may struggle to put into words what they really want to say, but the ways they are describing the situation may contain hints as to their real concerns.
Your child would likely now be using a mobile phone and other digital devices more regularly. It is timely to bring up how they can respond should someone sext them or if someone they are livestreaming with ask to see their genitals or show them theirs.
It is also good to guide your children in advance on how they can respond during a party, gathering, or sleepover when they feel uncomfortable with what is going on or when a situation arises that go against your family’s standards. Explain to them that they have the complete freedom to call or text you at any time, and you will pick them up immediately.
In situations in which they are, for whatever reasons, unable to call or text you the reason they need you to come get them, you can discuss with them a code word or phrase that they can use. For example, it could be them telling you over the phone something like, “I can’t remember if I turned off the lights in my room. Could you help me check?” or texting you the agreed-upon code word, in addition to sharing their real-time location with you.
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Check out the Talk about Sex series for more essential conversations with your children.